We all have bad habits that we could stand to lose — stress eating, nail biting, smoking, you name it. But some habits can be more detrimental than others.
Nail biting, or onychophagia (as those in the medical field call it), is a common habit that affects 20-30% of people across all age groups.
Although biting your nails may seem harmless, it can lead to some seriously nasty health effects.
In fact, a 28-year-old father in England reportedly almost died after biting his nails. After biting off some skin around his nail, the man’s finger allegedly got infected and led to a life-threatening immune system response called sepsis.
Although he recovered, it’s a lesson that a nail-biting habit can lead to some dire consequences.
Here are eight reasons why you should stop biting your nails … like immediately.
1. Your teeth aren’t built for all that stress.
If you’ve had braces or a retainer but still bite your nails, you’re canceling out your good dental practices with a potentially destructive practice. Biting your nails puts a lot of stress on the teeth that are used. Habitual nail-biting can cause teeth to move out of place, break or chip and tooth enamel to splinter, according to the University of Connecticut Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.
2. It can disfigure your gums.
If you care about your smile, you’ll stop your nervous nail-biting habit on the spot. In addition to possibly damaging your teeth, nail biting can eventually result in gum disease and gum recession. Jagged and sharp edges of fingernails can introduce bacteria to the crevices of your teeth and serve as the source of sore, damaged and infected gum tissue, according to a study in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.
3. A plethora of gross germs call have found a home under your nails.
Underneath your fingernails is a breeding ground for all sorts of germs, including bacteria like salmonella and E. coli and those that cause the common cold. When you bite down on your nails, those bacteria are likely to wind up in your mouth. And when that happens, it can cause serious infections in your stomach. A study from 2007 done by the Faculty of Dentistry at Atatürk University in Erzurum, Turkey found that 76% of nail-biters had E. Coli and other dangerous bacteria in their saliva whereas only 26.5% of non-nail biters had the same bacteria in their mouths.
4. Bite too hard and your nail could get seriously infected.
If you accidentally bite off too big of a nail chunk, you can expose yourself to one of the most common infections of the hand — paronychia. The infection, which can last for weeks, causes swelling, tender fingernail folds and pus-filled lumps, according to a study in the journal American Family Physician. If the skin around your nail is infected, treatment options include warm-water soaks, antibiotics and surgical drainage, the study says.
5. Facial warts are a possible consequence of nail biting.
Feel free to add facial warts to the reasons why you should never bite your nails again. Children and adults who regularly bite their nails are at a higher risk of developing warts around their fingernails. According to Heathline, these warts are usually caused by HPV, which enters your body through a cut or scrape commonly caused by nail biting. To make matter worse, if you touch your face with your contaminated fingers, you could end up spreading the warts to your face.
6. Dealing with ingrown nails could become a common occurrence.
You might have experienced an ingrown toenail before, but they can easily happen on your fingers too. According to Nails magazine, biting your nails along the free edge or the sides of a nail can create the perfect conditions for an ingrown nail. Ingrown nails can lead to swelling, redness, pain to the touch and possibly a need for surgical repair if an infection takes place.
7. Nail biters are more prone to stinky breath.
Forget that tuna salad you ate at lunch, if you bite your nails chances are you’re already suffering from stinky breath. According to a 2000 study done by the Department of Periodontics in the School of Dentistry at Case Western Reserve University, nail biters are more susceptible to halitosis, also known as bad breath. The germs you spread when you put your fingers in your mouth aren’t only destructive to your gut, they’re bad news for the people standing close to you as well.
8. Your fingernails may never grow back the same.
Biting your nails down too far isn’t just a bad look that lasts a couple of days, it can lead to permanent damage. Onycholysis, the separation of the fingernail from its nail bed, is a common nail disorder. And for those who bite their nails, the condition is more likely to become irreversible and cause a shrinking or “disappearing” nail bed, according to a 2005 study.