More than being just a cosmetic accessory, the state of one's fingernails can give an indication of the inner working of our body. They often have clues that point to certain conditions that we might be suffering from, unbeknownst to us. In essence, if the eyes are the windows to our souls, then similarly the nails give us that same peek through the windows of our bodies.
Nails, on the fingers and toes, are made of firm keratin proteins that are meant to protect the ends of our fingers and toes. The skin on these areas, known as nail beds, is extremely sensitive which is why this extra armor of protection is needed. Genetics play a role on how our body works, develops and looks, finger and toenails included. They come in numerous sizes, shapes, and colors. In general however, healthy nails have similar characteristics: they are smooth, strong and not so easily broken, and translucent. Most see their nails as pinkish in color, but this is actually the color of the nail bed behind it. If the nail is not nourished enough, it can get easily damaged, discolored, or deformed. It takes approximately four to six months for a fingernail to fully grow out, and six to twelve months for the toenails.
One of the more commonly observable nail abnormalities that have been reported is having dents in fingernails. These dents or small pits can be either vertical or horizontal.
Vertical dents are from the top of the nail to the bottom or vice versa. This does not signify any major health problem, and is usually a natural effect of aging. Vertical dents or ridges are not a symptom of any known disease and are generally not a cause for undue concern. It can be likened to wrinkles forming on the skin as one ages and grows older. Instead of a wrinkle, nails grow a ridge. The technical or medical term for this is called onychorrhexis which most often is accompanied by brittle, easily breakable nails as well. Another possible cause of vertical ridges is the overuse of nail solvents such as nail polish removers.
A horizontal dent runs from one side of the nail to the other. This, in contrasted with vertical dents, is a sign of an underlying health problem. These dents or grooves are known as Beau's lines and may be a sign of or resulting from:
- A previous long standing illness (maybe lasting months)
- Chemotherapy treatment; trauma or injury
- Hypothermia or exposure to extreme freezing conditions
- A major systemic disease or infection
- Onset of diabetes
- Reynaud's disease
- Poisoning, notably by arsenic
People suffering from Reynaud's disease can develop horizontal dents or Beau's lines as a result in the interruption of blood flow to the fingers and toes. This interruption in blood flow in turn interrupts the nail growth, stopping it temporarily; when the growth of the nail resumes, an indentation or groove forms near the base of the nail. This groove usually only becomes noticeable when the nails have grown longer and the groove has moved higher.
Another lesser known cause of horizontal dents is the formation of a small cyst or wart at the base of the nail. This could possibly put pressure on the nail bed and the nail structure, stopping nail from growing properly. Trauma or injury from nail biting or unnecessarily picking on one's cuticles can cause horizontal dents in fingernails.
Another potential cause of dents in fingernails may be due to vitamin deficiencies, especially Vitamin B12. Psoriasis could also be a possible culprit. It is a skin disorder that is characterized by the formation of reddish, scaly patches and plaques on the skin. It can cause pitting and chronic destruction of the nail bed that could interfere with the growth of nails. Still another possible cause of dents in fingernails is reactive arthritis or Reiter syndrome which is more often seen in males than in females. Aloepecia areata and eczema are two skin conditions that have dents in fingernails as one of their identifying symptoms.
There is a simple solution to get rid of these dents in fingernails. One way to smoothen the nails is to apply a few drops of almond oil then polish with a chamois buffer. Buffing removes a thin layer off of the finger or toe nail. In a week, three or four swipes from a buffer would be enough to remove the ridges. There are available ridge fillers for sale on the market that uses synthetic, man-made materials such as polyester resin to fill in the dents, gaps, ridges, or grooves.
Other solutions to treat these dents include eating the recommended daily amount of protein which is about fifty five grams. Vitamin A supplements may also be taken in to help the nails metabolize the said protein. Dietary silicon is one option to help keep the nails strong and less prone to forming dents.
Some extra tips and tricks to treat and prevent dents in fingernails and to keep them strong and healthy are the following:
- Take vitamin B12 supplements or eat foods that are rich in it, if a deficiency of this particular vitamin is the cause of the dents; eat a healthy and well-balanced diet.
- Avoid bad habits that cause trauma to the nail, the nail beds, and the cuticles. This includes: misuse of the fingernails, i.e. scratching on hard surfaces, using it to open, unlock, or tear things; nail biting; picking at the cuticles of the nails.
- If possible, keep the nails manicured (or a pedicure if the case or situation may call for it) but avoid applying nail polish or varnish as these may cause damage to the nail.
- Keep your nails clean at all times.
- Avoid wearing ill fitting or tight shoes that could put pressure on the toenails as this would affect their growth.
- Use creams or lotions to keep hands, fingers, feet, and toes well hydrated and moisturized.
- Keep yourself healthy to avoid contracting infections that could be the underlying disease that causes dents. If you already have any of the disease that could have caused it, then the sure way of getting rid of the dents in the nail is to get yourself well. Once the disease goes away, so will the dents eventually.
Nail care is a part of your complete, overall body hygiene. More than being just an aesthetic accessory nails can give a warning as to what is brewing inside the body. Other than the ones mentioned above, they could be an early signal of blood circulation problems, thyroid disease, or nutrient deficiency. It is therefore important for one to pay attention to the condition of the nails and simply not dismiss it as some minor thing.
If any abnormality or deviation from the normal is seen in the fingernails, the best thing would be to consult professional medical help. They would be the ones to best advise you of the proper course of treatment to take, and tell you the exact cause to the problem you are currently experiencing. The earlier one gets help, the earlier the situation can be remedied as well. This hold particular significance, as early detection, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment are the hallmarks of success in the healthcare world.
The ultimate lesson that can be gained from the humble fingernail is that even small, seemingly unimportant things can carry great significance and that in the overall scheme of everything there is no small or big. All things are equally valuable and meaningful.