Article at a Glance
Cheek biting, also known as morsicatio buccarum, is common and can range from an accidental bite to a repetitive, anxiety-driven behavior.
Accidental cheek biting is not usually a concern, but when it becomes a chronic, compulsive behavior you may develop sores, ulcers, and scar tissue.
Treatment for cheek biting can be as simple as wearing a dental appliance. If the behavior is caused by anxiety, it will likely require mental health treatment to learn how to manage the underlying issues.
Cheek biting may sound harmless, especially since it is so common. However, when the habit becomes a repetitive behavior it can be a symptom of an underlying mental health condition. Chronic cheek biting can also lead to oral health issues if left untreated. If you are concerned about cheek biting, understanding the symptoms, causes, and effects can help you determine the best way to stop.
What is Cheek Biting
Known as morsicatio buccarum, chronic cheek biting is often seen as a physical response to stress and anxiety. There are varying levels of cheek biting behavior ranging from an accidental bite to chronic, obsessive cheek biting.
Symptoms range from a canker sore (accidental biting or during sleep) to regular sores and ulcers. In extreme cases, regular cheek biting can lead to scar tissue and inflammation of the cheek tissues.
Often, check biting is a simple accident that happens when you chew incorrectly. It can also be a sign of misaligned teeth. However, repeated chewing inside of the mouth is a sign of anxiety. Like hair pulling and skin picking, cheek biting can be a physical manifestation of stress. In these cases, the act of biting your cheek is known as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRD).
When Cheek Biting Becomes an Issue
There’s usually not much concern for the occasional, accidental cheek bite though it may result in a canker sore that can be uncomfortable. However, if you notice that you’re accidentally biting your cheeks a lot, you may have an alignment issue. You’ll want to see your dentist for an exam to see if your jaw or teeth need to be realigned.
Extreme cases of cheek biting can be more concerning. Compulsive cheek biting may lead to sores, ulcers, and scar tissue inside your mouth. There is a tendency to bite the same places in your mouth causing sores to reform in the same places. Further, some evidence suggests that repeated sores in your mouth could be linked to mouth cancer.
When cheek biting is linked to an underlying anxiety-driven mental health issue, like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), there can be additional concerns. Since it can be considered self-injurious behavior, compulsive cheek biters can also become socially isolated out of shame, guilt, and hopelessness.
Cheek Biting Treatment Options
Treatment of cheek biting varies based on the root cause of the behavior. Accidental biting can’t be helped much unless it’s the result of your teeth or jaw being misaligned. For chronic and compulsive cheek biting, you may need to combine treatment options for best results.
Bite guards can help protect the insides of your mouth. The semi-rigid device is also used to protect against bruxism (teeth grinding). It can be helpful for people who bite their cheeks in their sleep or those having difficulty managing the behavior. Since bite guards could be problematic during the day, cheek biters could chew gum to help curb the behaviors.
If your cheek biting is caused by stress and anxiety, you may want to explore ways to manage your mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), exercise, meditation, and hypnosis are all noted to help manage symptoms of anxiety and stress. To manage compulsive cheek biting caused by anxiety, you need to learn to manage the underlying stressors.
The Bottom Line on Cheek Biting
It’s pretty safe to say that over the course of a lifetime everybody has accidentally bitten their cheek at some point. When the accidental behavior crosses over to something more, something you can’t control, then it’s important to seek help. Consult your dentist to have your mouth evaluated and a mental health professional who understands how to treat the underlying anxiety.
Regular check-ups with your dentist is the best way to catch issues early on and prevent further damage. If you’re due for a check-up or have some concerns about cheek biting, contact the Jefferson Dental Care clinic nearest you to make an appointment.
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