We've all been there. A misplaced bite during a meal, a fall, or a response to stress, and suddenly you've bitten down hard your cheek, tongue, or lips. In most cases it's simply an annoying accident, but there are times when it's actually a sign of a more serious problem. Don't worry, whether there's a reason for your cheek biting or not, there are treatments before and after to help keep your mouth healthy and pain-free.
Why Does Cheek Biting Happen?
There are a few reasons why people bite their cheeks and other areas inside the mouth, like the tongue and inside of the lips. Of course, the most common reason is by accident. You're trying to bite down on some food, but your cheek, tongue or lips get in the way and you bite them instead.
However, if you bite your cheeks or other areas inside your mouth on a regular basis, there might be a reason. For example, if you have misaligned teeth, it can be fairly easily to bite down on the cheek, lips or tongue since the teeth don't come together evenly.
Chronic cheek biting, also called morsicatio buccarum, can be triggered by psychological causes. Habitual biting of the cheeks is a type of body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRD). Other BFRDs include nail biting, hair pulling and skin picking, says The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
When a person has a BFRD, they feel a compulsion to repeatedly engage in an activity that damages their appearance or causes physical injury. In some cases, a person might not even be aware of what they're doing.
Chewing on the inside of the cheek might help a person feel calmer during times of stress or anxiety or be triggered by boredom. Sometimes, a person with a BFRD might start biting the inside of their cheek because they notice a bump or uneven texture. They might chew in an attempt to remove the bump or smooth out the rough patch, even though the act of biting does more harm than good.
Children and Cheek Biting
Similar to adults, children resort to chronic biting for many reasons, for example: to seek attention, as a soothing behavior for anxiety or depression, or a result of genetics. If this behavior goes unnoticed or untreated, it can continue into adulthood.
Pediatric dentists can help diagnose the problem and provide aid in overcoming cheek biting. Counseling, relaxation techniques, wearing a mouthguard, or treating a misalignment are all good methods for overcoming cheek biting.
Damage Caused by Cheek Biting
Chronic cheek biting can damage the mucosa, the mouth's inner lining, by creating painful sores, tears and redness. White patches that resemble callouses (or keratosis) can also develop. Discuss treatment options for mouth sores with your dentist, as you or your child may need medication or a prescription mouth rinse.
How Can You Stop Biting Your Cheeks?
The occasional, accidental cheek bite isn't something to worry about. You might develop a canker sore and experience some discomfort for a few days, but otherwise, it's not a cause for concern.
If you catch yourself biting the inside of your mouth regularly, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your dentist to get things checked out. It could be that braces (or in a few cases, surgery) could be required to align your teeth and prevent bites.
In cases where biting your cheeks is a type of BFRD, it is important to have some understanding if this is habitual or compulsive behavior. If it is a behavioral issue, cheek biting can often be addressed with the self-awareness of what you're doing, self-discipline, and patience. Then you can look for some small ways to help cope and to prevent yourself from chewing on the insides of your mouth. You can find a habit to replace biting, like chewing gum. Or, you can work to find other ways to calm yourself, like breathing exercises or meditation. If it is something that you cannot curb the behavior on your own, then you should talk to your physician about other options.
Habitual cheek biting can lead to discomfort and lesions inside the mouth. Getting to the root of the issue will help you find a way to correct the problem — so you can enjoy a healthy mouth.