Onychophagia is the medical term used to describe the compulsive habit of nail biting. Due to this habit, people bite the nail, and some of them even bite the soft tissues present around the nail plate. It is most commonly observed in children, adolescents, and young adults, but older adults can also have this habit.
Usually, in the age between 10 and 18, this habit is at its peak. Later, it subsides in most people. It has been observed that boys are more prone to this habit than girls. Most of the nail biting causes are related to stress, anxiety, nervousness, etc.
The exact reasons for this habit has not yet been ascertained. However, some research studies have found that the main reason could either be lack or excess of stimulation. When these people are under too much of stress, they feel that biting their nails will help them release the tension and they will be able to deal with their emotions in a better manner.
Some of them do this when they are not doing any other activity. For them, it is a natural reaction of their body towards boredom. Another psychological factor that may lead to this is that, if a person feels guilty deep within for some reason, they tend to punish themselves by hurting themselves in this manner.
In some cases, the reason could be genetic and may run in the family. Sometimes, children develop this habit if they observe their parents or any other people doing this. It could also be a sign of oral fixation. Oral fixation can be described as the condition when a person feels the need of keeping something in their mouth.
Such people carry out this act unconsciously, like they do it while watching a match, a TV show, or while reading books, etc. There are some people who continue with this habit even during sleeping. In certain serious cases, it could be a symptom of some hidden emotional disorder.
Due to this habit, the area where the nail meets the skin tends to become very painful. Sometimes, biting off the soft tissues can cause bleeding, and the fingertip may get swollen and turn red as a result. The cracks on the skin near the nails can get infected by the bacteria present in the saliva and lead to a health problem called paronchia.
When it is done for a long period of time, it can lead to deformation of the nail beds. As a result, they get shortened. If these people grow the nail after quitting the habit, the grown up nails look very odd because of the deformed beds. One may even get oral infection.
The germs that are accumulated under the nails often cause cavities and gum infection. It also puts a lot of pressure on the front teeth, so, the may get chipped off. It can adversely affect the psychology of the biters, as they feel self-conscious because of the ugly sight of the bitten nails, and thus find it embarrassing to interact with people.
Try to avoid getting into all those situations that force you to start this habit. Or else, make a conscious effort to stop yourself from doing it even when the situation arises. It can be done with a lot of self will and determination. A special colorless nail polish is available, which can be applied on the nails.
Whenever you bite the nails, the applied polish will give a bitter taste in your mouth, and you will be forced to stop this habit. When these steps do not show any result, then you can undergo behavioral therapy to get rid of this problem.
Disclaimer: The particulars mentioned here are for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.