Montana Public Radio

Finger And Toe Nails: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Nov 5, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids on: nails. 

I’m talking about fingernails and toenails. Their job is to protect the tips of our fingers and toes.

Fingernails are also tools – we use them to pick up small objects, scratch an itch, or scrape dried stuff off a surface like a countertop or your clothes. Nails are made of keratin: K-E-R-A-T-I-N, a type of protein. Keratin also makes our hair and the outer layer of our skin. Keratin makes horns and claws and hoofs in animals. To make keratin for healthy nails, eat a little protein every day. It doesn’t have to be protein from meat or fish or eggs.

Do you know there’s a lot of protein in vegetables and nuts and beans? Foods like spinach and broccoli, black beans and peanuts all have protein. The next time you eat a peanut butter sandwich, you can tell your friends that your sandwich is helping you make healthy nails!

Our nails have four important parts. One is the nail root. It hides under the skin of your finger, right below the nail you can see. Your nail grows up and out of the root. Did you ever bang your finger or toe and then notice a few weeks later that your nail has a dent in it? That’s because when you hit your finger below your nail, you damaged the root, and as it grew, it formed a dented nail!

The second part is the cuticle. It’s that little bit of skin that grows in a semi-circle around the bottom of your nail. Cuticles protect the brand new nail as it grows.

The third part is the lunula (from the Latin word luna which means moon). Your lunula is the white half circle that is just above the cuticle.

The fourth part is the nail you can see. As kids know, things can go wrong with all sorts of stuff. Here are a few tips about what to do when things seem to go wrong with your nails.

One problem is banging. Ouch! That really hurts! If you bang a nail, put the hurt nail (and finger or toe) in ice water. Keep it in there for 5 minutes. Then take it out and warm it up by rubbing it with a dry towel. You can put your finger or toe back in ice water every half hour until the bang feels a little better.

If your parents have Arnica cream, ah herbal medicine for bangs and bumps, ask them to put it on your banged finger or toe all around the nail for a few days. Nails can also crack or tear. If that happens, ask an adult to trim the hurt nail. If the nail is short, it’s less likely to tear or split even further. You can put a band aid over the nail to protect it from more damage.

Some kids bite their fingernails. Adults do it too, but usually only when no one is looking. Most people bite their nails because they are worried or restless and they need something to do with their hands. It’s not a great idea because if you bite nails down pretty far, it hurts! To stop biting your nails, get a small object that you can easily hold with your fingers. It can be a stone or a bead or a tiny toy. Keep the object in your pocket and every time you want to bite a nail, grab the object and roll it around in your fingers. Doing this can help you stay calm and distract you so you won’t bite your nails.

To keep your nails healthy, keep them trimmed and clean. Scrub underneath them with a special nail brush. And remember, the healthier you eat, the healthier your whole body will be, including your fingernails and toenails. I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.