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Stop Biting Your Fingernails

It goes beyond the scope of this post to explore or explain why some people have this habit, so we will stick with describing how I stopped biting my nails. Because hands come in contact with many surfaces each day that we would not put our mouths on, and because it’s difficult to properly clean beneath (even properly-trimmed) fingernails, it’s in our best interest to keep fingers out of mouths.

Even from a very young age (we were living in my grandparents’ basement so I must have been younger than four) I had a desire to chew on my fingernails. Sometimes I would chew them off to the point that they would bleed and didn’t know why.

My parents tried the foul-tasting nail coating that was supposed to help children stop putting their fingers in their mouths, but I found myself actually enjoying the sensation (strange, I know). When my dad would see me chewing on them he’d tell me to put my hands under my legs (when sitting down) or in my pockets – anything to keep them out of my mouth, but that didn’t work. Whatever was causing me to put them in my mouth and chew wouldn’t go away during that period of time. Those recommendations only postponed the inevitable.

One day Dad finally said something to me that had an effect. I was younger than twelve at the time, and we were riding somewhere together, just the two of us in the car. My persistence in nail biting had, at least that particular day, probably weighed heavily on his mind and he said (I’m paraphrasing): “Someday you’re going to go on dates. Girls won’t want to hold your hand if you keep chewing all your nails off.”

This came as a revelation to me because I’d never thought about the potential future repercussions of my nail biting. It didn’t make me feel bad, nor was it intended to. The effect was to help me resolve to quit. Somehow.

Over the years I gave quite a bit of thought to how/when/why I chewed my nails. One pattern that became apparent was that rough edges on nails drive me crazy — even to this day. If there was a rough edge, I would fruitlessly try to smooth it out with my teeth. Invariably the result was to make the rough part bigger and much worse. Nothing could prevent that, and eventually the nail would be essentially gone.

Tense situations (even those presented in movies) were likely to make me put finger to mouth and chew. Having gum or a snack sometimes reduced the likelihood that I’d chew, but not always. Even if there weren’t any rough edges, saliva softens the fingernails and eventually a rough spot would rear its ugly head.

For a number of years my mother had carried a nail file with her in purse, and I must have tried it. I don’t remember the exact circumstances and whether it was something I was encouraged to do or thought of on my own. Whenever there was a rough edge, the file smoothed it out and there was no need to use my teeth.

Eventually, one of those nail files came into my possession and I have carried one with me ever since. It takes self control to not use my teeth, but always having the nail file means always having a way to handle a rough edge. Hangnails used to always be a problem, but learning what to watch for and using the nail file have all but solved that problem as well.

Any nail file that will smooth out rough edges acceptably would probably be adequate, but my very favorite is the Diamond Deb. We used to buy them at Kmart, but they’re available online from a number of different places. Ladies will have no trouble keeping one (or more) in a purse, but men may need a smaller model that will fit in a wallet. I carry the larger, checkbook-sized wallet, so it accommodates the roughly 5-6” version. Be sure it’s in your carry-on luggage when you fly, because they have a sharp metal point and will probably be confiscated by the TSA.

Filing nails is probably a little more acceptable for men in today’s climate of metro-sexuality, but I’ve received more than my fair share of strange looks. Ultimately, not chewing my fingernails is more important to me than what other people think, so it’s an effective solution for me. Getting sick less than before is an added bonus, and hey — my wife doesn’t mind holding my hand.

87 comments to Stop Biting Your Fingernails

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