If you ever bit the inside of your cheek, you know the pain related to such a mishap. While many people experience cheek biting as an occasional accident, others struggle with it as a bad habit or obsessive action. Read on to learn more about cheek biting, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What is Cheek Biting?
Known as morsicatio buccarum, chronic cheek biting or chewing 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).
Types of Cheek Biting
Did you know that there are different types of cheek biting? There are five main types to address the frequency and severity of cheek biting behavior.
1. Periodic Accidental Cheek Biting
Let’s face it, everybody bites their cheek once in a while. It happens accidentally in many situations, including sports, roughhousing, and even chewing food or gum.
Periodic accidental cheek biting may result in a canker sore, but it isn’t usually a concern. Of course, it may sting for a bit, but it’s not something you’re likely to do again soon!
2. Regular Accidental Cheek Biting
What if it does happen again, sooner than you’d like? If you notice that you accidentally bite your cheeks more frequently than you care to, then you may have alignment issues with your jaw. Contact your dentist if you notice an issue with accidental cheek biting.
Of note, some people notice regular accidental cheek biting related to the eruption of their wisdom teeth. It’s possible to experience more irritation and cuts to the insides of your cheeks as your wisdom teeth break through.
3. Cheek Biting in Sleep
Some people grind their teeth during sleep, but others chew on the insides of their cheeks. It’s difficult to stop yourself if you don’t realize you’re doing it until you wake up in the morning, right? Reach out to your dental team to discuss the possibility of an orthodontic appliance to protect your cheeks overnight.
4. Habitual Cheek Biting
Have you ever noticed somebody chewing on their cheek? For some people, compulsive cheek biting is a semiconscious behavior and bad habit triggered by underlying emotions or a reaction to their environment.
5. Chronic Cheek Biting and BFRB
BFRB, or body-focused repetitive behavior is something a person cannot control without help. When the cheek biting crosses from a controllable behavior to a compulsion, it takes on a new name, morsicatio buccarum. Chronic cheek biting is estimated to affect about 750 people in one million.
People who chew on their cheeks repeatedly usually have underlying anxiety disorders. The condition, and repetitive behaviors can impact every aspect of their lives.
What Causes Cheek Biting?
Aside from those accidental cheek bites, it’s usually possible to identify the underlying cause of the behavior. Generally, people chew on their cheeks when stressed or anxious, or if they feel bored due to inactivity.
Most cases of chronic cheek biting relate to an underlying psychological cause. However, some researchers suggest there is a genetic component. Chronic cheek biting usually emerges in late childhood.
Dangers and Complications of Cheek Biting
When you bite your cheek, you probably notice a sting and possibly discomfort when you eat or drink. However, the area usually heals within a few days, then you forget all about it until you happen to do it again.
Unfortunately, chronic cheek biters who struggle with controlling the behavior, especially who chew their cheeks as a BFRB, end up with more severe sores. Repetitive chewers generally develop cheek biting scars, and some even erode the soft tissues of the cheek.
Repetitive cheek biters can develop related complications if they continue the behavior. First, compulsive cheek biters often experience psychological damage due guilt or shame related to their inability to stop. Additionally, some studies suggest that chronic irritation of the tissues of the cheek can lead to oral cancer.
How To Stop Cheek Biting
Though it’s difficult to prevent those occasional cheek biting incidents, it is possible to manage regular accidental and overnight chewing. For those struggling with chronic cheek biting, you can learn coping methods. It’s necessary to understand the triggers and causes to determine the best course of treatment.
Managing Accidental and Overnight Cheek Biting
Regular accidental cheek biting may require orthodontic treatment to rectify misalignments. People who only bite their cheeks during sleep could resolve the problem with an orthodontic appliance, much like those used for teeth grinders.
Treating Chronic Cheek Biting
Since chronic cheek biting usually involves psychological factors, including stress and anxiety, treatment is different. While orthodontic appliances or alternative behaviors, like chewing gum could help, it’s necessary to address the underlying issues.
When dentists suspect a patient’s cheek biting behavior is a body-focused repetitive behavior, they may suggest a mouth guard for cheek biting to protect the cheeks and permit proper healing. However, they will also refer the patient to another doctor for therapy and possibly medication.
There are several therapeutic options for chronic cheek biters. Medication can help manage the anxiety, but some type of therapy is usually advised to learn alternate coping mechanisms.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the negative thoughts that lead to the anxiety and ultimately the cheek biting behavior.
- Habit reversal training uses multiple methods to help individuals gain awareness and ultimately control the behavior.
- Comprehensive behavioral treatment involves learning new skills to manage underlying emotions instead of biting your cheeks.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches acceptance of the feelings and behaviors and mindfulness techniques to stop the repetitive cheek biting.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a highly successful treatment for self-harm behaviors, including cheek biting. It involves a combination of acceptance, mindfulness, and learning to regulate emotions.
What You Should Do About Cheek Biting
Occasional accidental cheek biting is a common issue that affects all of us from time to time. However, the other four types of cheek biting require some attention and intervention.
If you suspect cheek biting is a problem, the team at Jefferson Dental and Orthodontics can help. Book an appointment with the office nearest you!