Cheek Biting in Adults: What You Need to Know

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It's mealtime and you're about to take a bite of food. But, instead of chomping down on something tasty, you close your mouth and take a big bite out of the inside of your cheek. Ouch!

It's likely that there's no one on the planet who hasn't accidentally bitten their own cheek at some point. But cheek biting isn't always an accident, and it can even be a major problem. In some cases, it's a response to nervousness or stress. Learn more about why people bite their cheeks and what you can do to stop the habit.

Why Does Cheek Biting Happen?

There are a few reasons why people bite their cheeks and other areas inside the mouth, including the tongue and inside of the lips. In many instances, the bite occurs by accident. You're trying to bite down on something else, but your cheek, tongue or lips get in the way and you bite down on them instead.

If you bite your cheeks or other areas inside of the mouth on a fairly regular basis, there might be a physical reason for doing so. 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 and it's easy for something else — like your cheek — to get in the way.

The causes of chronic cheek biting, also known as "morsicatio buccarum," aren't only physical. There can also be psychological causes. Repetitive or habitual biting of the cheeks is a type of body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRD). Other BFRDs include hair pulling and skin picking, as The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviorspoints out. Nail biting is also another type of BFRD.

When a person has a BFRD, they feel a compulsion to engage in an activity, such as pulling the hair or biting the cheeks and lips. In some cases, a person might not be aware that they are biting the inside of their mouth. Chewing on the inside of the cheek might help a person to feel calmer during times of stress or anxiety.

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.

How Can You Stop Biting Your Cheeks?

The occasional, accidental cheek bite isn't something to worry too much about. You might develop a canker sore and experience some discomfort for a few days, but otherwise, it's not a cause for concern.

But, if you find that you're biting down on your cheeks or other areas inside the mouth fairly regularly, that might be a sign that your teeth aren't in alignment or that something else is going on with your teeth and jaw. If you catch yourself biting the inside of your mouth regularly, such as on a monthly or weekly basis or even just more often than you'd like, 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, one way to cope and to prevent yourself from chewing on the insides of your mouth is to find a habit to replace biting. That habit might be chewing sugarless gum or learning to take deep breaths when you feel the urge to bite.

Habitual cheek biting can lead to discomfort and lesions inside the mouth. Getting to the root of the problem and finding a way to correct the cause of the bites may help you fix the habit and enjoy a healthy mouth and beautiful smile.

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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.