Last Updated on Sep 02, 2020

What is Nail Biting?

Nail biting or Onychophagia is the habit of biting nails with the teeth and is seen in both adults and children. While the habit seems simple to stop, it actually is a psychological condition in some cases with no permanent cure.

Nail biting or Onychophagia is classified in DSM-5 as an “Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorder” together with other body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) such as hair pulling.

Professional treatment, should it become necessary, aims to treat both the physical and psychological factors causing nail biting.

Nail biting is seen in children (> 3 or 4 years old) and adolescents. Following the age of 10, nail biting habit is observed more in boys compared to girls. However, the habit is reduced in adults. Healthy children appear to get over the habit. However, those who are affected psychologically find it hard to give up the habit. No particular nail is preferred in biting.

What are the Causes of Nail Biting?

Nail biting is a form of nervous behavior. Some of the causes of nail biting are:

  • Insufficient physical activity and boredom
  • Worry
  • Tackling difficult issues
  • Imitating others in the family
  • Nervousness brought on in children when listening to scary or sad stories, answering the phone, or are unsure how to respond
  • Possible genetic predisposition


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  6. Berezow A. Could biting nails cause skin cancer? Yes, Possibly. Updated Sep 7, 2018; Accessed May 22, 2019; Cited May 26, 2019. - (
  7. American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). How to stop biting your nails. Updated 2018; Accessed May 22, 2019; Cited May 22, 2019. - (

Latest Publications and Research on Nail Biting

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