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Chronic nail biting is more than just a simple behavior that your mother nags you about to stop doing because it will ruin your teeth. It is part of a more complex series of underlying pathological problems that patients need to address if they want to find a successful treatment to stop. 

In one study looking at the prevalence rates of chronic onychophagia, it was determined that this is a very common problem in society. Prevalence rates estimate that this behavior was present in 46.9 percent of the population of 332 respondents interviewed in the survey. Most citing starting this type of behavior in their childhood and carried into their adolescence and even young adult lives before successfully stopping the bad habit. 

Is this just a bad habit though, so something much more sinister? This same study found that patients who admitted to biting their nails also reported high levels of tension 66 percent of the time before they decided to bite their nails and 40 percent cited relief in their tension after doing this ritual. [1]

As you may already have guessed, there is some type of psychiatric disorder that is highly associated with this type of behavior. Studies show that patients that report chronic nail biting have underlying anxiety disorders in 27 percent of cases and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 5 percent of the time.  It is very similar in mechanisms compared to a standard OCD patient because both deal with overpowering stimuli that the patient must give into in order to find temporary relief from their impulses. 

When it comes to treatment options, this is where creativity can run wild. Most of the time, patients will just outgrow the behavior so excessive treatment options are not necessary. That will not dissuade nervous mothers from trying their options. Mothers can take matters into their own hands and try to apply some type of noxious chemical or substance to the surface of a child's hands to try to deter them from this behavior with limited success. This is not much different to what we try to do from a medical perspective. 

The standard medical therapy that can be used on these types of patients comes in the form of dental implants that can make it uncomfortable for patients to want to put their fingers in their mouth. These implants are similar to braces and are more effective than what your mother would try because it is impossible for children to tamper with the therapy. One quick trip to the bathroom unattended could allow children the opportunity to wash off whatever substance mom tried. Removing an implant will be much more tedious. Patients can still eat normally and these implants can come in clear colors to reduce the embarrassment of the patient as well. In small clinical trials of this method, it was found that all patients had stopped biting their nails after a 9-month period of implant use.[2]

The other type of therapeutic option available to patients comes in the form medical intervention. These patients are exposed to medications like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and lithium, two treatment options for patients suffering from underlying psychiatric disorders. Findings show that when these diseases are better under control, patients do not have the same nail-biting behaviors. [3]

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