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Nail biting: Does it cause long-term damage?

Although unsanitary, chronic nail biting (onychophagia) isn't likely to cause long-term nail damage.

Nails are formed within the nail bed — just beneath where the U-shaped cuticles begin. As long as the nail bed remains intact, nail biting isn't likely to interfere with fingernail growth. In fact, some research suggests that nail biting might even promote faster nail growth.

Nail biting isn't without risks, however. For example, nail biting can:

  • Damage the skin around the nail, increasing the risk of infection
  • Increase the risk of colds and other infections by spreading germs from your fingers to your mouth
  • Harm your teeth

If you're concerned about nail biting, consult your doctor or a mental health provider. To stop nail biting, he or she might suggest:

  • Avoiding factors that trigger nail biting, such as overstimulation
  • Taking healthy steps, such as getting active, to manage stress and anxiety
  • Keeping your nails neatly trimmed or manicured
  • Occupying your hands or mouth with alternate activities, such as playing a musical instrument or chewing gum
  • Apply a bitter tasting lacquer to nails to discourage biting

In some cases, treatment with behavior therapy might be needed.

Last updated: July 15th, 2017

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