Nail Bitingr0300141.jpg (81920 bytes)
A common problem that is largely dismissed as a minor nuisance, nail biting can be anything from a bad habit to an outward symptom of a medical or emotional disorder.
While nail biting and picking seems to be such a common problem, the psychological and medical research does not agree on an exact motivation for the action. However it suggests that nail biting can be the result of stress, various medical disorders, learned behaviors, or just plain habit. Treatment depends on the individual, but regular grooming and care is a big part of successfully kicking nail biting or picking.

Chronic Onychophagia, the clinical name for nail biting. 
It is estimated that:

28% to 33% of children ages 7-10 years old, 44% of adolescents,
19% to 29% of young adults and 5% of older adults

are nail biters according to Terry M. McClanahan, author of "Operant Learning Principles Applied to Nail Biting" a 1995 study published in Psychological Reports (see nail biters profile below).
The most common instigator of the disorder seems to be stress or anxiety. Nail and Cuticle/Skin biting may be an outlet for pent-up emotion, reducing tension for the individual. Nail Biting is a habitual condition says Ronald Bronow,M.D., a dermatologist in private practice and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. It is a common reaction to stress and boredom.
Nail Biters could also suffer from a poor self-image or could be punishing themselves for deeper-rooted problems or anxieties.  Basically, nail biting is a rational substitution of one problem for another. In many instances nail biting is used as a tension reliever. Any kind of disharmony as a result of friends, family, work, or school can trigger the habit.
99% of nail biters have minor problems or a fixed biting habit. Fewer have a deep emotional problem of which nail biting is a symptom.

Nail Biter Profile
Nail Biters are more often male than female after age 10 (10% fewer girls bite their nails than boys), and individuals with a higher rate of intelligence tend to bite their nails more than those of less intelligence. (Studies seem to suggest this is because people with a higher rate of intelligence have more responsibility, which may provide more anxiety.) Studies show that some relationship between nail biting and low self esteem may exist.   In general though, nail biting was not shown to lower a biter's self-esteem.
While no studies revealed an overall success rate for curing nail biters, Rob Dahmes, M.D., suggests that those with a habit may be harder to cure than those who bite their nails in relationship to a psychiatric problem. Nail biting that manifests itself due to emotional trauma can possibly be cured with medicine and or counseling. Unfortunately, no treatment exists for bad habits.

Children may pick up a nail biting habit from a babysitter or family member as a learned behavior.
Attention-Seeking, need for oral gratification, sociopathy, lack of self monitoring or self esteem, obsessive-compulsive
To bite or not to bite
Whatever the causes damage to the cuticles, roughness on the free edge, bleeding at the grooves or cuticles and nail deformities. However, fingernail growth may be accelerated by as much as 20%, according to a 1980 clinical study by W.B. Bean, who observed nail growth patterns over many years.
The hand-to-mouth, oral action of biting and picking leaves some individuals open to medical problems. "Nail biters are more susceptible to yeast infections of the nail due to prolonged and increased wetting of the area during the repeated biting" explains Dr. Bronow. "Damage to the nail matrix from nail biting causes more extreme problems, such as infection, ridging, or even permanent nail loss"
Nail Biting can spread bacterial infections and can be responsible for severe dental problems, including gingivitis. Oral diseases can also be spread via nail biting because of the constant contact of fingers with the mouth of the individual. For instance, oral herpes can actually begin to grow on the fingers due to the constant contact, according to medical journals.

Some nail biters start out by trying to bite off a hangnail, fray or tear in a nail. They try to fix it with their teeth to make it smooth.  The next thing they know a chunk of skin or nail has been chewed off.

Nail Saving Techniques
Several techniques with varying results have been developed to help extreme nail biters: mild aversion therapy, self-monitoring, habit reversal, and medication.
Mild Aversion therapy is a "physically observable deterrent" and can be described as something as simple as snapping a rubber band on the inside of the wrist each time the nail biting urge occurs.
Using a bitter tasting product that coats the nail or wearing gloves are other deterrents. 
Self-Monitoring requires the nail biter to keep a written record of all incidences in hopes that awareness of the problem will stimulate self-control.
Habit reversal is perhaps the most "successful" and "valid" therapy for nail biting, using a step by step program that seeks to make the individual aware of her behavior and then provide a physically competing response to interfere with it. It combines record keeping, relaxation training (yoga) and response competition (performing a physical action when the desire to bite occurs)

How can a nail technician help?
By treating nail biters with respect...
Find a salon that will apply artificial nails for you.
If they tell you to grow some of your nail before you come back, find another salon.   Nail Biters nails are more difficult to work on but a well trained nail tech will be able to perform miracles.
I applied nails to nail biters all day long at my salon. Nail biters were my best customers.
They appreciated my skill of nail application like no other client.

I have even applied artificial nails to one or two men. Just enough to look like their own nail while it helped them kick the habit.

If you do not want artificial nails, weekly manicures are very successful. Having someone pay attention to your nails every week has many effects. By having weekly manicures you eliminate all hangnails, rough nails and anything else that you may find to pick at or chew. Also like those weight losing programs, having someone else pay attention to
your progress (in this case your nails) will encourage you to pay attention to your nails. You must make a full commitment...maybe by paying for services up front it will encourage you to stay on the program.  

Good Luck
Terri Taricco - nail technician

See nail biting products