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photo of woman biting her nails

Can biting your nails make you sick?

Nail biting can cause more problems than just affecting how your manicure looks. Joel Garrison, D.O., a Piedmont family medicine physician, explains why some people bite their nails, why it’s harmful and how to break the habit.

Why do people bite their nails?

Many people start biting their nails during childhood and continue the habit as adults. Dr. Garrison notes that stress and anxiety are common triggers for nail biting.

Why is it harmful to bite your nails?

“Our hands come in contact with many bacteria and viruses each day,” says Dr. Garrison. “It’s important to wash your hands frequently and avoid biting your nails because doing so can make you sick.”

He says biting your nails can increase your risk of:

  • Gastrointestinal illnesses

  • COVID-19

  • The flu

  • The common cold

  • Warts

  • Mouth infections

  • Nail infections

  • Nail bed damage

  • Problems with your gums and teeth

How to stop biting your nails

If you want to quit biting your nails, here are some tips:

  • Practice good nail hygiene. “The best way to stop biting your nails is to have good nail hygiene and keep your nails trimmed short,” says Dr. Garrison.

  • Get a professional manicure. If your budget allows and you enjoy them, consider getting regular professional manicures. When your nails look nice, you’ll be less tempted to bite them.

  • Apply a bitter nail polish. Another option he suggests is to apply an over-the-counter bitter-tasting nail lacquer to deter you from biting. This works well for children and adults alike.

  • Determine what triggers your stress. If you suspect your nail biting is triggered by stress, identify the root cause so you can take steps to manage it.

  • Swap in a new healthy habit. If you tend to bite your nails while watching television, for example, find something else to do with your hands, such as squeezing a stress ball or playing with a fidget spinner. Dr. Garrison doesn’t recommend finding something else to do with your mouth, like chewing on candy or gum, as this can present other health issues like high blood sugar or jaw pain.

Biting your nails is a habit that’s possible to break, even if you’ve done it for years. With the right strategies, you can reduce your risk of illness and have more attractive nails in the process.

We make getting great health care simple and convenient. Schedule an appointment today through your Piedmont MyChart account or our website.

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