Latest disorder is a nail-biter

  • Article by: AIMÉE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2012 - 2:57 PM

Bad gnaws for nail-biters: Your habit could be a mental problem, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

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 The American Psychiatric Association plans to include nail-biting as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual revision for 2013. The disorder, known as onychophagia, will join hair-pulling, skin-picking and other pathological grooming habits in the OCD classification.

"I've seen people who have bloody stumps," said Keri Maki, a master nail technician at Minnetonka LifeSpa. "The nail bed is bitten back to almost nothing, there are scabs around the cuticle. It's pretty disgusting."

Nail-biting is currently listed in the manual's "not otherwise classified" section of disorders.

The association isn't saying that all nail-biters are obsessive-compulsive. In fact, up to 48 percent of adults do it, but some 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.

Experts say people bite their nails for a variety of reasons: out of boredom, as a way to soothe themselves when they feel anxious, stressed, or even as a symptom of perfectionism -- using the teeth to reshape an uneven nail.

Treatment includes the use of bitter-tasting polish, keeping nails manicured or in more severe cases, medication and counseling.

Maki also recommends chewing gum, using a stress ball to keep your hands busy, carrying a nail file and getting regular manicures.

She added: "If you invest a little money on your fingernails, you might not be so quick to chew them up."

Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715

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