Does nail biting cause any long-term nail damage?

Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Although unsanitary, nail biting isn't likely to cause long-term nail damage. Nails are formed at the nail bed — where the U-shaped cuticles begin. As long as the nail bed remains intact, nail biting isn't likely to interfere with fingernail growth. In fact, some research suggests that nail biting might even promote faster nail growth.

Nail biting isn't without risks, however. For example, nail biting can:

  • Contribute to skin infections
  • Aggravate existing conditions of the nail bed
  • Increase the risk of colds and other infections by encouraging the spread of germs from the nails and fingers to the lips and mouth

In addition, compulsive nail biting is sometimes a sign of an underlying mental health condition, such as anxiety or an impulse control disorder.

If you're concerned about nail biting, consult your doctor or a mental health provider. To stop you from nail biting, he or she might suggest:

  • Avoiding factors that trigger nail biting, such as boredom
  • Finding healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety
  • Keeping your nails neatly trimmed or manicured
  • Occupying your hands or mouth with alternate activities, such as playing a musical instrument or chewing gum

In some cases, behavior therapy to stop nail biting might be warranted.

Jul. 30, 2011 See more Expert Answers