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When Is Lip Biting a Sign Of Other Conditions?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Perhaps you've recently noticed that you've developed a habit of biting your lips. Or maybe your child is unconsciously doing it. If you don't know much about lip biting, you're probably newly curious about the habit. Your first question might be, why do people bite their lips? For many, lip biting is an occasional nervous habit. However, did you know that others may chronically bite their lips due to an underlying medical condition? Let's go over the dental, psychological, and developmental disorders that could cause lip biting and when you should see a dental or medical professional.

Temporomandibular Disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your jawbone to your skull, is one of the most complex joints in the body. Numerous factors such as arthritis, grinding teeth, or injuries to the jaw can cause TMJ issues. People with TMJ disorders can experience many different symptoms, such as pain in the jaw joint or trouble opening and closing their mouth.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found that lip biting is also a common symptom of TMJ disorders, with 37 percent of the studied individuals exhibiting the habit of biting their lips or other objects.


Common causes of a misaligned jaw (also known as malocclusion) include: your upper and lower jaws are not the same size, you have extra teeth, or have abnormally shaped or missing teeth.

Most teeth alignment problems are minor and don't need any treatment. But in some cases, a person may experience difficulty or discomfort when biting or chewing that requires professional intervention. According to the textbook Pediatric Dentistry, repetitive lip biting in children with an existing malocclusion can impede correction of the improper alignment.

Other Health Conditions

TMJ disorders and malocclusion aren't the only possible conditions that cause individuals to bite their lips. Some other health conditions and disorders that are psychological can also cause lip biting.

For example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) explains that body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) are one of these disorders. People with BFRBs may repeatedly pull their hair, pick their skin, bite their lips, or perform other repetitive actions. According to an article published in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, individuals with autism may also tend toward certain self-harm behaviors, such as biting their lips.

Treatment Options

We recommend that if you or your child have a habit of biting your lips often, the best first course of action is to see a dental professional about it! We believe that knowledge is power, and taking this initial step of having an honest conversation with your dentist can put your mind at ease. Many lip-biting treatments are available, but the first step is discussing it with your dental professional and figuring out the root cause.

If your dental professional suspects a TMJ disorder is to blame, they may suggest home remedies such as massaging the jaw muscles or limiting your diet to soft foods. If necessary, they may prescribe medications to help ease pain and inflammation in the jaw joint. Your dental professional may even recommend a nightguard or splint, which is a clear plastic device that fits over your teeth to help your jaw muscles relax. They may even refer you to other medical specialists, such as physiotherapists or oral surgeons, if your TMJ disorder is severe.

In some cases, you may need orthodontic treatment to correct your malocclusion and its associated issues. Your dental professional may recommend braces or other orthodontic appliances to adjust the positioning of your teeth. If overcrowding is part of the malocclusion problem, one or more teeth may get extracted to make room in your mouth. In rare cases, a patient may need surgery to reshape their jaw. Dentists don't treat lip biting's psychological and developmental causes, so they may recommend seeing your family doctor or an appropriate specialist. Mental health providers who specialize in BFRB disorders are the most equipped to treat them.

If you or your child bite your lips often, the habit could be a sign of several different underlying conditions, as outlined above. Or it could merely be an individual habit on its own! Rest assured that occasional lip-biting likely isn't a problem. However, chronic biting of the lips can be a distressing habit and can irritate the skin. If you're concerned about how often you or your child are biting your lips, talk to your dental professional or healthcare provider who helps you determine its severity, its causes, and the best form of treatment.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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