Who bites their nails? People of all ages bite their nails. One estimate tells that nearly half of all children aged 10 to 18 years old bite their nails. Young boys and girls bite their nails equally, but more boys than girls bite their nails after age 10. Most people will outgrow the habit once they reach their 30s. Occasionally, nail-biting accompanies other body-focused repetitive behaviours like hair-pulling or skin-picking, or rarely, it may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why do people bite their nails? Many nail-biters gnaw when they feel anxious or nervous, and they may not even notice when they're doing it. Kids and teens tend to bite their nails when they're feeling bored or challenged by a problem. Or maybe they're struggling with a friendship drama or a school issue. Some children begin biting their nails to copy other children or when they're transitioning from another "handsy" habit - thumb-sucking.

Does nail-biting do any damage? The extent of damage done by nail-biting will vary from biter to biter. Some people bite just the tips of their nails, while others bite the cuticle and soft tissues surrounding the nail. For some, nail-biting is only a nuisance habit or a cosmetic or aesthetic headache. For others it will result in permanent nail-bed damage. Nail-biting can cause bacterial infections, warts to develop around the nail bed, bleeding cuticles, and tissue around nails to become sore and red.

How can a person break the nail-biting habit? First, get to the root of the habit by tracking when you most commonly bite your nails. That way, you can plan ahead to distract yourself with other diversions when you're in a trigger situation. This works for kids and teens, too. If stress is causing your nail-biting, find ways to reduce the stress. You could leave yourself reminders, like sticky notes attached to your workstation or a rubber band worn around your wrist. For some, success comes when they begin grooming their nails, trimming them short, or wearing artificial nails that aren't biteable. Others polish on deterrents - substances that taste awful and keep nails away from the mouth. Social deterrent does the trick for teens, as it's been noted that less nail-biting goes on when socializing with friends. If nail-biting becomes disruptive to your life, you might consider therapy, where you can learn habit reversal techniques.

Amy Toffelmire