Cheek Biting: Signs and Causes

For many folks, some sort of nervous tick is a daily occurrence. Maybe it's something simple like tapping a foot or twirling a pen. Did you know that some nervous tick impulses are more serious than they appear? One problematic type is called a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB). While most people are very familiar with nail biting, one BFRB you might not have heard as much about is cheek biting.

Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRBs)

According to Psychology Today, a BFRB is when a person engages in intense self-grooming behaviors, including biting, pulling, picking, and scraping nails, hair or skin. Baldness and scarring are common physical results. The individual also suffers severe emotional distress. Those who are unaware of the severity of such behaviors might look at them as simply bad habits. Yet, those afflicted with such conditions – roughly 3 percent of the population – can have their ability to function socially and occupationally greatly impaired.

Causes of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Whether it is skin pulling or cheek biting, a BFRB can stem from numerous causes, according to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Some BFRBs, such as skin picking and hair pulling, are inherited from relatives. Other factors include environment, age at onset, a person's temperament and family stressors. This behavior isn't limited to humans, with primates, dogs, cats and birds engaging in similar habits.

Children and Cheek Biting

Children who compulsively bite their cheeks tend to suffer from psychological and developmental problems, notes a paper published by Contemporary Clinical Dentistry. Children who are psychologically and developmentally typical rarely engage in this behavior. Children resort to chronic biting for many reasons: as a way to seek attention from family members, as the result of a traumatic injury, as a stress coping mechanism, or as a reaction to highly competitive levels of sports or other activities.

Pediatric dentists tend to be the ones to initially diagnose the problem, and they can also aid families in overcoming cheek biting. Help can come from a variety of preventative measures. Counseling, sedatives and relaxation techniques may recondition the behavior, while wearing a removable shield can protect the cheek and the tongue. In extreme biting cases, grinding sharp tooth edges is also an option.

The TLC Foundation offers steps to manage the issue. The first step is recognizing when the biting behavior occurs. Second, parents and children should develop strategies to alter the behavior. A BFRB patient must train their brain to recognize the signs and symptoms that occur when they're about to start biting. Patients may also find journaling helpful to keep track of when the behavior occurs, any events that trigger the behavior, and the feelings associated with the action. Finally, after it is recognized when and why the behavior occurs, it can be replaced with a healthier one such as chewing gum.

Mouth Damage

Chronic cheek biting will damage the mucosa, the mouth's inner lining, by creating painful sores, tears and redness, notes the TLC Foundation. White patches that resemble callouses (or keratosis) can also develop. Discuss a treatment plan for mouth sores and lesions with your dentist, as you or your child may need medication or a prescription mouth rinse.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.