Onychophagia is an oral compulsive habit. A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. Onychophagia is oral because it involves the use of the mouth, the teeth to be precise and compulsive because it is most times an irresistible urge.
Onychophagia is Nail Biting. It is a Body Focused Repetitive Behavior just like thumb sucking, nose picking, and tooth grinding. Nail biters bite their nails absent mindedly, without thinking about it and without realizing that they are doing it. I bite my nails, in fact I chew them, especially when I am bored, my nails hardly ever grow because I don’t give the chance for growth, once it can get in between my teeth, it’s gone. Nail biters could be watching a movie, reading a book, using their phones and biting their nails at the same time, yeah we are pretty good at multitasking. It’s a bad habit that has stuck from childhood, I am not proud of it, I am not ashamed of it either. I assume I am not alone in this, if you’re a nail biter reading this, don’t worry, we are in this together.
I don’t feel guilty about nail biting but I decided to stop it because;
- Nail biting can make the appearance of the hands look bad and unhygienic. Though nail biters usually have cleaner nails, apart from being extremely short, it sometimes gets red and sore, especially for long term nail biters.
- Nail biting increases risk of infections around the nail beds and in the mouth. Such infection could cause swelling, redness and a buildup of pus around and under the nail. Whitlow is likely to affect nail biters, I suffered it when I was thirteen, the pain was real and I do not want to ever experience such pain again, I do not wish such pain for any nail biter either.
- The nails are a breeding place for germs, even after washing the hands, dirt would still lurk within the nails. Nail biting gives these germs and dirt free access into the body which could be a little healthy because some of the germs have been said to be immune boosters and very unhealthy because harmful germs and bacteria do more harm than good. This is the first reason why I even considered stopping this habit.
- Nail biting could result to abnormal nail growth. This has not been the case for me anyway, but I have seen it and it is not a very pleasant sight.
- Nail biting could damage the teeth, from consistently chewing hard nails. This also has not been the case for me because my nails are soft and brittle; I think that’s what makes it easy for me to bite it off without even noticing.
- Finally, I’ve decided to stop nail biting, because I’m no longer a child, I’m a grown woman and ought to have dropped the habit. Someday soon I’d have children and I wont want them to be nail biters, I don’t think I would even tolerate it. If I do not want my children to be nail biters then I have to stop nail biting before they come, that’s the way I think.
Habits are difficult to break, very difficult but also very possible with a willing mind of course. It doesn’t work like magic, it takes a conscious effort. If you want to stop onychophagia with me, there are ways;
- First find out why you bite your nails in the first place. Keep a log of when you find yourself doing it, it could be when you’re tired, stressed, nervous, hungry etc. For me, I don’t bite my nails out of anxiety or stress, I bite my nails when I’m bored or when I’m feeling sleepy and trying to keep awake, like when I feel sleepy in the lecture hall or in a meeting, my nails suffer to keep me awake. When you’ve noticed the pattern, you’ve discovered the trigger then you can work towards it.
- Try stress management techniques if your onychophagia is as a result of stress or anxiety.
- Substitute nail biting with another habit such as drawing, writing, squeezing a stress ball. Just keep your mouth and hands occupied with alternate activities. When I’m going to a place where I’m likely to feel sleepy when I shouldn’t, I use chewing gum to keep my mouth busy and keep awake, that way I won’t have to bite my nails.
- Keep the nails short, trimmed and filed regularly. If there’s little or nothing to chew, there is less compulsion to bite your nails. I have a nail cutter, in fact my key holder is a nail cutter. This implies that whenever I’m not on artificial nails, my nails are very short, this time not with my teeth but with the nail cutter which is much neater and healthier.
- Use nail polish or artificial nails. It helps, I occasionally fix artificial nails not just because I can’t bite them or because I want to conceal my short nails but because I love fine things and they make your nails look and feel great. I’d pick manicure over facial make up.
- Paint a bitter tasting polish on your nails or wear gloves. This works more on children, the bitter taste and gloves discourages them from biting their nails , but ensure that the polish used is not toxic.
- If you can, keep a record, you don’t have to write it down, just keep a mental note. If you keep a record of nail biting, you become more aware of the times when you bite and would be able to stop.
- Finally, keep at it, consistency is key. It won’t stop overnight, it requires conscious effort, it might seem like it’s not working but if you keep at it, you wouldn’t even realize when you stop it, you’d just notice one day that the onychophagia is gone.
Onychophagia is not a life threatening issue, it is not a morally deficient act, it is not even as bad as some people paint it, but it can be overcome if you want to. I am overcoming onychophagia, you can too if you’re a nail biter.