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The medical term for nail biting is onychophagia.  It is a typical stress- or anxiety-related habit in both kids and adults.  It involves biting off the either the finger or toe nail plate, and sometimes the soft tissues of the nail bed and the cuticle as well.  Onychophagia is a type of ‘onychotillomania’, which includes the habit of picking or manipulating the nails – for example, habit-tic nail deformity.

Onychophagia, or nail biting, is regarded as a body-focused repetitive behavior.  It is usually observable in adolescents and prevalence decreases with age.

What does onychophagia cause?

Onychophagia can be the result of stress, emotional tension or social embarrassment.  It is linked with other habit disorders, including trichotillomania and compulsive skin picking.

While it does not cause them, onychophagia is associated with a lot of psychiatric disorders which includes:

  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Separation anxiety disorder

It is also essential to note that nail biting can also cause physical problems, including:

  • Stomach infections resulting from the swallowing the bitten nails
  • Teeth root resorption
  • Fungal infections of the nail plate (onychomycosis) and surrounding skin (paronychia)
  • Alveolar destruction
  • Temporomandibular joint pain and dysfunction.
  • Intestinal parasitic infections

Moreover, upon diagnosis, it is important to explore for the association of other psychological disorders which the patient may be experiencing.  It may be possible to find some relief as well as lessen nail biting by treating these underlying disorders.



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