Nail biting is a compulsive obsession medically known as Onychophagia. Children as well as adults can develop this habit. It can start at an early age of 5 and carry on till the age of 30 years.
Some of the main causes for nail biting are stress, nervousness or boredom. Children are generally ‘copycats’ and imitate this habit when they observe an adult in the family or someone they like biting their nails. At times, little girls see their mother biting her nails and find it very “cool”; the damage is done at this stage.
Sometimes, it starts when you find a broken nail with jagged and uneven edges - you want to smoothen it out by nibbling on it, rather than wait till you can locate a nail file. You carry on with the next nail and the next, enjoying it till it becomes a habit. The biting continues until the finger tips look red and swollen and start bleeding when the skin breaks.
Cuticle is the dead skin around the edges and base of the nails – so when there is no nail left to chew at the edges, the cuticle is also bitten off. Parents tend to leave children with this habit till the fingers become sensitive and actually bleed. Nail biting is common in children between ages 10 – 18 years and it stops once they are adults. The fingers of nail chewers become susceptible to microbial and viral infections along with thinning of the skin.
Oral problems are common following nail biting - gum injuries and malocclusion and misalignment of anterior teeth. Stomach infections and irritation can result due to ingestion of bacteria present in the nail bed.
Remedies - There are many - it depends on what works for you!
Taping the fingertips with band aids or any adhesive tape can work as an ideal deterrent as nails are not easily accessible.
Wearing cotton gloves is also one method where the fingers are covered and cannot reach the mouth unconsciously.
Women can visit a salon and get an expensive manicure – it would make them think twice before undoing all that they have paid for.
Chewing some hard gum has helped a few people break the habit.
There are some anti nail biting, nail polish products available, which taste vile. A person would not want to bring their fingers near their mouth after applying this, but it needs to be applied every time the hands are washed. The clear colored nail polishes can be used by men also. The obnoxious taste would arrest nail biting in many a child.
Fix a day on your calendar and make a resolution to abstain from biting only one nail for the week. Carry on to the next and so on – as those nails which are left alone look better, it is an enough incentive to stop.
A hobby which keeps your hands busy will be a good idea – like knitting, painting, building legos or even squeezing a stress ball. The idea is to keep the hands busy.
Women can invest in artificial nails which will give their hands a sleek look and it will be difficult to chew on their nails as the artificial ones would have been attached with glue.
Self hypnosis is an option when adults cannot break the habit. There are many self help books available in stores. With a relaxed mind, visually imagining beautiful fingers and hands 2-3 times a day can be set in the subconscious mind. This can bring excellent results.
In very extreme cases, professional hypnotherapy is resorted to.
Source: www.webmd.com, www.buzzle.com