Experts explain why you shouldn’t break your nail-biting habit.
Onychophagia, or nail biting, is a fairly common habit. According to health experts at the University of Michigan, about half of all pre-teens and teens chew their nails, although most people stop (or at least stop admitting it) after the age of 30. Nail biting — which can be caused by stress, anxiety, OCD, or just plain boredom and restlessness — may seem perfectly harmless, but it can invite bacteria, viruses, or fungi into your body and bloodstream, increasing your chances of catching a nasty infection – including the new coronavirus. “Nail biting is very risky right now because we know the virus can live on surfaces like your nails and is most commonly transmitted to your face by touching your face,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an adult and pediatric immunologist and allergist at the NYU Langone Health in New York City. “So if you bite your nails, you risk picking up not only the virus, but other bacterial and viral pathogens as well.” (Check out these 7 annoying habits – we can’t help it here.)
How bad is it to bite your nails?
How nail biting leads to bacterial and fungal infections
If you’ve ever had a manicure, you’ve no doubt noticed the dirt that the manicurist removes from under your nails. You can see that with the naked eye – so imagine all the bacteria you can’t see. The most common pathogens lurking under our nails are staphylococciSTreptococcusand coryne form Bacteria that can enter the body through cracks in our skin or – you guessed it – through ingestion after biting your nails.
If that’s not enough of a deterrent, just imagine dermatophyte fungi, also known as ringworm, hanging in your nail tissue as you open your mouth and insert your finger. “Ideally, nails should be kept short and hand washing should be frequent,” says Dr. Parikh, repeating the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, clean hands are the number one factor in preventing the spread of pathogens and antibiotic resistance in healthcare settings. The next time stress makes you bite your nails, try some healthy breathing techniques instead.
How nail biting leads to cold and flu
According to the CDC, there are more than 200 common cold viruses circulating at all times. Although risk factors for acquiring one include a weakened immune system and/or exposure to a sick person, you can significantly reduce your chances of contracting a virus by keeping your hands off “your face, especially your mouth and Keep it out of your nose,” says Dr Parich. Viruses that cause the flu also thrive on your skin, so wash your hands frequently with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and avoid biting your nails by chewing gum. “Keeping nails short is the best deterrent so you don’t get tempted,” says Dr. parikh “Some nail biters report painting their nails with a clear or colored nail polish that discourages nail biting due to the taste.”
How nail biting can damage your teeth
Nail biting can also damage teeth and gums. Nail biting can break, chip, or wear down front teeth and can also lead to sore gums and gum damage. Ask your dentist if a mouth guard could help you stop biting your nails — or at least minimize some of the damage it can cause. She may also be able to suggest some other techniques to help you break the habit forever. A study published in 2016 Case reports in dentistry suggests that fixed braces fitted by a dentist could be a solution as they make nail biting uncomfortable and difficult. Next, check out these 10 tips for strong, healthy nails.