What Is Nail Biting Disorder?

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Nail-biting disorder, medically known as onychophagia, is a condition that describes the behaviors of nail biting, nail picking, inserting one or more fingers into the mouth, and biting nails. Nail-biting is considered a repetitive behavior disorder and is classified as “Other Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Nail Biting Disorder Negatively Affects Health

Nail-biting disorder is a condition closely related to oral health, nail health, intestinal health, and mental well-being. This disorder can have various negative impacts on health, including:

  1. Gum Diseases, Tooth Root Damage, and Jaw Joint Dysfunction: Nail-biting can lead to gum diseases and damage to tooth roots due to the constant manipulation of teeth and nails in the mouth. It may also contribute to dysfunction in the jaw joint.
  2. Deterioration of Nail Structure and Nail Infections: Nail-biting can adversely affect the structure of the nails, causing weakness, cracks, and breakage. Additionally, it may lead to the development of infections in the nails.
  3. Lack of Hand Hygiene and Intestinal Infections: The habit of nail-biting, coupled with insufficient hand washing or hygiene, can result in the transfer of bacteria and microbes from the nails to the body through the mouth. This can contribute to the development of intestinal infections.
  4. Feelings of Shame and Guilt: Nail-biting can lead to the development of feelings such as shame and guilt in individuals. These emotions can negatively impact a person’s mental well-being.


User, Conditions that Can Cause Nail Biting Disorder

Nail-biting behavior is commonly recognized as a behavioral problem that often begins in childhood and can be observed in individuals of all ages. Various psychological disorders can contribute to the development of nail-biting disorder. In addition, there are research findings suggesting that nail-biting behavior can be assessed as a habit without any underlying medical condition. Furthermore, having a role model within the family who exhibits nail-biting behavior can influence children and lead to the initiation of nail-biting habits.


Parental Attitudes and Family Relationships Can Cause Nail Biting Behavior

Nail-biting behavior is generally a behavior that emerges in childhood. Some parental attitudes can lead to the emergence of this behavior. Authoritarian parental attitudes, communication problems within the family, arguments between parents, scolding by parents, neglect, and lack of affection can create situations that lead to nail-biting behavior.


Various emotions can lead to nail-biting disorder.

“Various emotions such as aggression, anger, distress, sadness, anxiety, fear, worthlessness, and insecurity are claimed to pave the way for nail-biting disorder. For this reason, some researchers suggest that nail-biting behavior has an anxiety-reducing effect, and that’s why the behavior is repeated.”

Nail Biting Disorder Treatment

Since there can be various reasons causing nail-biting behavior, determining the appropriate treatment method is achieved by analyzing the underlying cause correctly. As nail-biting behavior usually emerges as a habit in childhood, parents need to carefully observe this behavior and seek support from a specialist to understand the underlying cause. Adult individuals with nail-biting behavior can also overcome this habit with expert support and an appropriate treatment method for their condition.

Blaming and punishing do not have a positive impact on the treatment of nail-biting behavior. Nail-biting behavior can be treated with suitable methods determined by experts, and it can also be reduced through various relaxation techniques.

Instead of Punishment, Love and Compassion Should Be Shown

Punishing, blaming, or shaming children for nail-biting behavior becomes more of an anxiety-inducing factor than helping to reduce the behavior. Similarly, adults blaming themselves and feeling ashamed due to nail-biting behavior does not assist in treatment; instead, it increases stress. Therefore, when faced with nail-biting behavior, parents should approach their children, and individuals should treat themselves with love and compassion.

Relaxation Techniques Can Reduce Nail-Biting Behavior

Relaxation techniques, which have a stress-reducing effect, play a crucial role in helping children and individuals control their anxieties. Breathing exercises, various breathing techniques can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. The reduction of anxiety and stress can be influential in decreasing nail-biting behavior.


Azak, M., Mutlu, B. (2020) Nail-biting behavior in children: onychophagia. Balikesir Health Sciences Journal, 9(3), 227-232.

Kaya, M. C., Bulut, M., Bez, Y. (2012) Journal of Clinical and Experimental Investigations, 3(4), 545-547.



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