Why You Should Care for Your Toenails

It’s easy to let toenail care slip down to the bottom of your priority list. For the most part, they seem to need little more than a trim now and then. But if you use the wrong tools or use them the wrong way, you could be doing more harm than good. And it’s not just about clippers and files. Your shoes and socks play a role, as do the environment and your overall health.

So with all these variables conspiring to trip up your toenails, where can you find reliable information about the best way to care for them, and what should you do when your toenails take a turn for the worse? 

Dr. Dan Preece and Dr. Darren Groberg, our two expert podiatrists at the Salt Lake City branch of the Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists, have a stake in your toenails and are here to help you make sure you do all you can to keep them healthy. But if you end up with a toenail disorder, you can also count on us to provide the right treatments to get your toenails back in tip-top shape. 

How to care for toenails

Taking care of your toenails isn't hard if you follow some simple rules and stay consistent. 

Here are some tips for regular toenail maintenance.

Cutting

Trim your toenails at least once a week. You can skip a week if there hasn’t been much growth, but don’t let too much time pass in between trimmings. When they get too long, there’s more potential for problems. 

Keep your toenails short, trim them straight across, and then use a file to slightly round out the corners. This helps prevent ingrown toenails and infections. And always use clippers designed for toenails because they’re stronger and are able to cut through thicker nails than fingernail clippers can.

Cuticles

Cuticles are those thin strips of clear skin where your nails meet the edge of your toes, and they’re there for a reason. Cuticles form a tight seal to keep bacteria and other pathogens out, so don’t trim, cut, poke, or prod them. 

Socks

Your socks are in constant contact with your feet and toes, so the condition of your socks affects the condition of your nails. Damp, sweaty socks create the ideal environment for bacterial growth that penetrates your nail beds and can lead to infection and fungus. 

Change your socks daily. Change them several times if they become wet or damp during work or sports. Choose cotton for the best moisture wicking.

Shoes

Proper-fitting shoes are critical to toenail care. If they’re too loose or too tight, you can end up with blisters. Too pointed can cause bunions and hammertoes, and too narrow or too high can push your feet into a cramped space that forces toenails to grow inward.

While walking around barefoot can be pure joy at times, make sure you never walk around with naked feet in public places where fungi may be lurking. Any little scratch or cut on your foot creates an entry for bacteria from pool decks and gym floors, so slip into some flip flops before strolling around on wet, warm, or dirty surfaces.

A special note about diabetic foot care

If you have diabetes and can’t control your blood sugar well, your feet face special challenges. Because high blood sugar is known for causing nerve damage, especially in the feet where circulation is poor, many people lose the feeling in their feet. That means you may not even realize you’re cutting your skin instead of your toenail. 

If you have diabetes, and you can’t see or feel your feet or toes, come see us for professional toenail care to prevent damage that could lead to infection and even amputation.

Fungal infections 

The reason we listed these tips is to help you prevent one of the most common toenail problems — fungus. About 20% of Americans suffer from a fungal infection in their toenails, and that number jumps up to 75% for folks over 60. 

Classic signs of a fungal infection are thickened nails that become discolored, brittle, cracked, and jagged. They typically become hard to cut on your own, and you may find it hard to wear certain shoes. 

Dr. Preece and Dr. Groberg determine for certain if your symptoms are caused by a fungus, and then develop a treatment plan best suited for your symptoms. Fungal infections may take a while to completely get rid of, but with some patience and proper care, you can have healthy toenails once again.

We may prescribe topical solutions like an antifungal nail polish or cream, or an oral medication may be more effective in some cases. 

If these treatments don’t do the trick, we may recommend surgery to remove the nail so we can treat the skin underneath. When your new nail grows in, you can start over with a clean slate. 

If you have questions about toenail care or have symptoms of infection or fungus, call our team to make an appointment or request one online.

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