Nail biting or Onychophagia as it is known in the medical world, is considered to be a compulsive disorder, if it’s maintained for a longer duration and occurs very frequently during the day.
The condition is of higher prevalence among the very young children as well as the teenagers and approximately 30 – 40 % of these categories would practice biting of nails.
There can be several reasons apart from being a compulsive disorder for the biting of nails. These can include anxiety, lack of self confidence or being simply a ‘bad habit’. Thus, it is essential to give the due vigilance to such practice, especially in children, as it may be the presenting feature of a mental conflict.
The given consideration towards nail biting is not only because it appears a bad habit but because it actually influences the health of such individuals. Thus, some of the health issues that can be seen in long term nail biters will be,
* Shortened nail bed
* Swollen finger tips known as ‘big headed fingers’
* Discolored and less appealing nails
* Gum diseases or gingivitis
* Tooth damage and increase incidence of dental caries
* Infections and pus formation in the fingertips
* Deformed nails
* Transmission of infections from nails into the body
* Social unacceptability
There are several means of alleviating the nail biting habit and apart from such direct measures; it may require certain supportive measures in order to alleviate these symptoms. Following are some of the widely used interventions for nail biting.
* Discouraging the nail biting
There are certain nail polishes which are flavored in bitter taste and thus would discourage the person from biting the nails.
* Habit reversal training
The process being a behavioral therapy will seek to un-learn the biting habit and replace it with a more constructive action or procedure.
* Stimulus control
In this method, the children as well as the adults are examined and interviewed in order to identify what leads to the unacceptable behavior and steps will be taken to eliminate the stimulus and thus its effect.
* Mouth protectors
When children are engaged in nail biting, it’s possible to make use of a mouthpiece to protect the nails as well as the teeth and gums from effects of nail biting.
An important aspect that needs to be remembered is, the condition although will be troublesome and un-healthy for a child, it should not be given the highest priority on the day to day activities. Proper understanding of the circumstances, explaining the bad effects and praising at times of avoidance are preferred than confrontational actions.