When Should You Worry About Onychophagia in Children?

When Should You Worry About Onychophagia in Children?

Last update: 26 March, 2018

Onychophagia in children is a very common condition. It’s important to treat it in time and prevent it from becoming a bad habit they’ll carry into adulthood.

Onychophagia consists of constant nail biting and has several different causes. It can lead to health problems if it occurs over a long period of time.

We should worry about onychophagia in children when it goes from random behavior to a process that is repeated frequently, turning into a bad habit.

We should pay attention and help children stop biting their nails before it becomes a bad habit. The first thing we should do is identify the cause of the condition.

Causes of onychophagia in children

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Emotional events such as the death of a loved one, parents arguing or the uncertainty they have about the arrival of a new sibling.


Onychophagia can cause several health problems for children to varying intensities. We’ll explain the most common consequences below.  

Dental problems

  • Abnormal alignment of their teeth. It can cause deformation of the dental arch. This can delay and cause the emergence of deformed teeth. This problem will require the help of an orthodontist.
  • Inflammation of the gums due to the introduction of microorganisms that are present under their nails. They can cause inflammatory conditions such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Onychophagia can cause pain while chewing food due to the jaws’ constant use.
  • Halitosis (bad breath) can occur due to lack of oral hygiene or infections.

Digestive problems

  • Depending on the intensity and duration of this habit, it can cause intestinal obstruction.
  • Nail biting can lead to various types of infections caused by pathogens which aren’t normally dangerous. They only pose health risks when the immune system is deficient.
Onychophagia in Children

Dermatological problems

  • Bacterial infections on their nails. This occurs due to the filtration of saliva which then causes inflammation of their fingers. This can be painful.
  • Depending on the intensity, in the long term, onychophagia can cause deformation of the fingers. It can also cause permanent nail damage.
  • Ulcerative infections can occur after they’ve ripped off, bitten or caused wounds to their skin. These wounds can get infected easily due to the large number of germs present in saliva.
  • Another problem is appearance. Onychophagia is very aesthetically unpleasant, and it can have a negative impact on children’s social life.

What can you do?

Beyond the fact that nail biting can be seen as unpleasant, the swollen fingers, gums and bad breath can affect a child’s self-esteem.

Why? Because its appearance can incite ridicule and rejection from other children. This can ultimately cause children to isolate themselves and in extreme cases, they can develop social anxiety disorders.

Onychophagia in children is a problem that doesn’t usually require pharmacological treatment. But given its compulsive nature, it’s sometimes necessary to ask for the help of a psychologist who can initiate positive therapy.

It’s very important for us not to judge our children. We should apply the advice given from professionals in a coherent manner. If we work on it firmly, we can help eradicate the bad habit.

The correction of onychophagia will prevent children from growing up with various issues. It’s even important in the prevention of addiction to tobacco and other drugs.

Remember that these addictions are just an escape route from accumulated tension and the mismanagement of emotions and thoughts.

Don’t ignore your child. Think about the way you interact with them.

A seemingly innocuous habit such as nail biting can be a warning sign that they need more attention and better care.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.