Is Nail Biting a Habit or a Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association is considering adding nail biting to the category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders when it revises its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 2013.
They are not saying that all nail biters are OCD, but acknowledge that there are a few people who have moved beyond nail biting as a habit and into what is called clinical severity – the point when the action is so severe that there is physical damage.
Although non-OCD nail biting is unhealthy, causing the spread of bacteria, viruses, and even pin worms, the more serious nail biters take it to a level that it impairs their ability to function.
Nail biting is called, onychophagia. The person bites their nails for a variety of reasons. They may do it out of boredom, as a way to sooth themselves when they feel stressed, or even as a symptom of perfectionism – finding an imperfection and trying to even it up by using the teeth to reshape it.
When it gets to the level of a disorder, the nails may be bitten until bleeding occurs. There can be constant infections and even permanent scarring and damage to the fingers.
Experts say that nail biting is not uncommon among children, but usually diminishes by the age of 18. They believe it is more prevalent in children who have anxiety and self-esteem issues.
Sometimes the habit can be broken by using special formulas which taste bad on the nails or painting the nails. A lot of the time it is just a matter of reminding your child not to chew their nails and hoping they grow out of it.
Onychophagia just gets worse. It can’t usually be controlled without medical intervention. In the past, insurance didn’t cover a medical consult for nail biting and there were no funds for medical research. Now that the condition will be categorized as a compulsive disorder, there will be opportunities for research funding if nothing else.
Behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medications can help if the nail biting is severe.
So, does your child bite her nails out of habit or is she one of the few who really have an uncontrollable urge to snack on their fingers?
If you are concerned, you should discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor and get her recommendations. Try keeping a journal to keep track of the intensity of the biting and any possible events that may have resulted in the nail biting.
Over a period of time you may see that she bites nails for three days before an exam but rarely any other time, indicating that it may be a stress related action and easily broken. If you see a pattern of continual biting then it could possibly indicate a deeper problem.
Either way, if your child is biting her nails until they bleed, her fingers are infected, or nail damage occurs, it would be best if you had the problem evaluated by a doctor. The sooner it is handled, the easier it is to find a solution.