Nail biting is bad for oral health

04th October 2017
Nail biting is bad for oral health Source:The Midweek Sun

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By Rachel Raditsebe -


It seems such an innocuous habit but medical experts say nail biting, clinically known as Onychophagia, has adverse health effects aiding in disease transmission. It is an impulse control disorder, in which sufferers start biting their nails and the skin around the nails and cuticle, whenever they get anxious or nervous. Not only has it been identified as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder by the American Psychiatric Association but, nail biting, say experts, can permanently damage your nails, gums and teeth.

In the long run, it will cause gum disease, loose teeth, missing teeth and other ailments, warns dentist Dr Anthony Mburu. Just like chewing on hard nuts and ice cubes should be avoided as it may chip your teeth, the same warning applies to nail biters. “Nails are hard. So, when you bite, you cause excess stress to your teeth. Over time, this weakens them and can eventually result in a tooth chipping or breaking,” he said, adding that, “biting into your nails is not only detrimental to your oral health, but it is unhygienic as well.

Bacteria and germs from your surroundings can enter through the oral cavity and infect you”. According to Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr Mosepele Mosepele, many people who bite their nails are unaware of the underlying causes of infections that the hand is exposed to. “Most enteric infections (infections that are caused by parasites living in the human intestine) are aided by human faecal matter. The infections are spread to man through faecal oral routes such as human waste to mouth through contaminated hands,” he adds.

Faecal matter can be found in contaminated soil, water and surfaces such as toilet handles and flushing cistern handles. In public washrooms, people use and share toilet handles and water taps. Biting your nails after leaving the washrooms is a recipe for infections, such as Amoebic dysentery, cholera, typhoid and other diarrhoea related diseases in children such as Giardia Lamblia. When you bite your nails, your cuticles break. The condition is known as Paronychia. As you chew your nails, it leads to swelling and formation of pus around them .

The American Academy of Dermatology says bacterial infections caused by nail biting is one of the most common nail problems. To keep the doctor away, specialists have formulated ways to help people with obsessive nail biting habits. Keeping a journal to help you identify your nail biting triggers such as stress and boredom then comes up with ways to avoid the triggers is one way. Another is, wrapping your fingertips with band-aids and keeping your hands busy with other activities such as knitting are also creative ways of avoiding nail biting. To be safe however, Dr Mosepele suggests keeping your nails well manicured and trimmed. For serious cases of onycophagia, they advise patients to consider behavioural therapy, such as habit reversal training and applying unpleasant tasting substance on your fingertips, vinegar and hot sauce.




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