There’s no doubt that nail-biting is very common—it’s been stigmatized as a bad habit that people train themselves to quit with all different sorts of methods. However, it turns out that the downside of nail-biting extends far beyond grossing out your friends at the dinner table.
Don’t let their small size fool you—your nails actually harbor lots of germs and bacteria, often in the enterobacteriaceae family. In layman’s terms, hidden in the crevice between your nail and your finger, salmonella and E. coli could be waiting to creep into your mouth. When you bite your nails, you’re transferring potentially dangerous bacteria into your vital organs, putting yourself at risk for abdominal pain and/or infection.
The problem doesn’t stop at nails, either. Habitual nail-biters often chomp on the skin around their fingers, too, leaving open cuts and abrasions that could easily pick up even more bacteria or yeast. Yes, this means an unattractive look for your hands, but with enough bacterial buildup, the solution might end up being surgical intervention.
Nail-biters are also at risk for bacterial strains that you would probably never associate with the oral habit—HPV, an often sexually transmitted virus, is common among nail biters. Now that’s scary!
Biting your nails is no picnic for your teeth, either.
“Constant biting can lead to poor dental occlusion,” says Richard Scher, MD, an expert in nail disorders, “so the biter’s teeth shift out of position or become oddly shaped.”
You’re also at a higher risk of gum disease and infection if you’re a habitual nail biter.
So, if you’re addicted to chewing on your nails, you might want to reconsider the habit—stop putting yourself at risk!
And speaking of harmful bacteria, we put the five-second rule to the test. After you’ve “tested” it yourself (AKA eaten food off the floor!) you might want to step up these healthy-living habits, just to be safe.
This post originally appeared on AOL