July 15, 2022
There is a general belief that cheek biting is harmless and simply a bad habit like nail biting. We’ve all at some point in time experienced the sudden biting down of our cheek while eating our food, causing immediate pain.
However Persistent biting of the tissues in the mouth can interfere with the person’s comfort, routines, and ability to eat.
Scientifically known as morsicatio buccarum, Chronic cheek biting is considered to be a body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB) similar to hair pulling (trichotillomania) and skin picking (excoriation).
Categorized under obsessive-compulsive disorder, this kind of repeated behaviour can be an indication of a mental health condition driven by stress and anxiety.
A consultation with the dentist can help to establish if cheek biting is being caused due to misaligned teeth or implants. People who suffer from temporomandibular disorders may also often bite their cheeks.
However, a more severe condition, Chronic cheek biting requires appropriate medical attention.
What is Chronic Cheek Biting?
Behaviours that are repeated despite continuing attempts to stop them BFRBs become disorders when they start to interfere with a person’s quality of life and cause pain or injury.
Beginning in late childhood, these disorders can continue into adulthood and can be directly influenced by the stress level.
What are Different Types of Cheek Biting
The five primary types of cheek biting are:
1. Periodic Accidental Cheek Biting
A rare occurrence, every person may once in a while bite their cheek which may result in a canker sore. However, this is not generally a cause for worry.
2. Regular Accidental Cheek Biting
Sometimes a person can accidentally bite down on the cheeks more frequently because of the teeth not being in alignment or there may be something wrong with the jaw.
A dentist must be consulted if the cheek biting reaches this point. An expert and experienced dentist like Dr Sheena Gaur at Kirkland Premier Dentistry can guide suitably on the problem.
3. Cheek Biting While Asleep
For the people who wake up with a sore in the mouth or a tender spot, it might be because of biting in sleep.
This is an unintentional behaviour that can be dealt with with a soft guard provided by the dentist, to prevent direct contact of the teeth with the cheek.
4. Habitual Cheek Biting
When the biting happens frequently enough to be apparent and also starts interfering with the regular routine, it might be psychologically related.
A completely obsessive cheek biting BFRD is a condition where one may not even realize that they’re biting their cheek or it continues despite the attempts to stop, it is known as chronic cheek biting or chronic cheek bite keratosis.
Why Does Cheek Biting Happen?
There can be many reasons to make a person bite the inside of their teeth. These can range from an accident to the structure of the teeth and jaw.
Some of the most common reasons for cheek biting include:
Lack of Attention: One may sometimes during meals, be distracted from the act of proper chewing because of multitasking activities like scrolling through social media, reading a book, or watching TV and may not even realize about having bitten their cheek because of being so immersed in the other activity.
Accidental Biting: Caused due to lack of attention, Accidental biting can happen when one eats too fast or talks while eating.
Injury Biting: One may bite the cheek while fighting, playing sports, or meeting an accident.
Depression or Anxiety-Related Biting: As a reaction to stress, boredom or depression, a person can sometimes automatically bite their inner cheeks. It can be a semiconscious coping method for emotional overload.
Tooth Deflection in the Dental Arch: Usually common with wisdom teeth, deviated molars, premolars, or poorly designed or badly- constructed crowns, where the teeth can deflect towards the other teeth and cause lesions.
Psychological-Related Biting: A chronic cheek biting, where one compulsively bites the inside of the cheek. One may not even be aware of this biting.
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What’s the Damage of Cheek Biting?
The occasional, accidental cheek bites can result in canker sores but aren’t much of a cause for concern. They usually bring some mild discomfort for a few days, but that’s typically it.
Continuously biting the soft tissue inside the cheek can lead to oral trauma such as mouth sores and ulcers. It can also lead to the area becoming thick and scarred.
Chronic cheek biting can lead to redness, painful sores, and gashes in the mouth’s inner lining, and is referred to as the mucosa.
Usually a mindless action, there is a high probability of the biter biting too deep and injuring the mouth.
Chronic cheek biters often bite the same area repetitively breaking and damaging the skin in that ‘favourite’ portion of the inner cheek.
This can lead to a patch of skin that is raw and feels jagged and this broken skin can give birth to an added compulsion of trying to smoothen the damaged area, by biting again or touching it with the tongue or fingers.
This can be potentially hazardous as it can introduce bacteria to the mouth, creating a cycle of continuing or worsening injury.
The effects of BFRB-related cheek biting may not only be restricted to physical damage but also bring along feelings of guilt or shame about the self-injury-inflicting behaviour.
All this can further lead to feelings of despair and loss of control making the person shy away from social interaction, and affecting their overall well-being.
How to Stop Cheek Biting?
Stopping the biting can pose a challenge because in most cases the biter may not be even aware of the habit, the potential triggers, or that it’s being used as an answer to stress and anxiety.
If you find yourself having accidental cheek bites regularly, it is a good time to consult your dentist or schedule an appointment at Kirkland Premier Dentistry.
The cause may probably be very simple enough to be addressed with dental appliances or surgery to correctly align your teeth.
A dentist may sometimes prescribe a mouthguard if you regularly bite your cheek. A mouthguard can help to stave off any additional damage to the tissue, allowing it to heal.
It is usually recommended to wear the mouth guard until the tissue has completely healed.
The treatment may be more tricky for a chronic cheek biter with ascertaining whether the behaviour is habitual or compulsive being the first step.
Often able to be dealt with guidance, support self-discipline, and patience, some other techniques that prove successful for habitual cheek biting are:
- Chewing gum to replace cheek chewing
- Deep breathing when you feel the impulse to bite your cheek
- Recognizing triggers that make you chew on your cheek
However, compulsive BFRB cheek biting and cheek chewing are more complicated conditions, whose treatment focuses on emotional & behavioural elements. Some recommended steps to deal with it include:
- Reducing stress levels
- Providing healthy solutions to the anxiety
- Eliminating triggers that provoke the behaviour
- Meditation to reduce anxiety Practising mindfulness
- Talk therapy with a psychologist to find a treatment plan that lends you support through various therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), habit reversal training, comprehensive behavioural treatment, acceptance and commitment therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
Doctors may sometimes recommend medication in addition to psychotherapy.
When to Call Your Dentist?
You should schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately if you find yourself biting the inside of your mouth regularly while eating or talking.
Dr Sheena Gaur explains that a tooth, or more often a wisdom tooth, can lead to lesions in the cheek. The dentist may then recommend an extraction, braces, or Invisalign to correct the alignment of your teeth.
A consultation can also help to establish if your cheek biting is regular and accidental or if it’s severe and compulsive (BFRB chronic cheek biting).
In most cases, there is a simple cause behind cheek biting that can be easily addressed with dental appliances like a mouth guard to prevent further damage to the tissue, giving it a chance to heal or surgery.
The dentist may also recommend applying cold compresses, and saline solutions to cleanse the area to reduce swelling or may prescribe oral-safe numbing gels.
Usually harmless, accidental Cheek Biting can be a result of misaligned teeth. However many people experience chronic cheek biting which may be a body-focused repetitive behaviour relating to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Psychotherapy and in some cases medication can help people to resolve chronic cheek biting.
Chronic cheek biting may not only cause physical complications but also lead to a feeling of shame and low self-esteem in some people, making them avoid social and career-related interests.
If you, your child or a loved one is a habitual cheek biter, then a timely consultation with Dr Sheena Gaur at Kirkland Premier Dentistry can help to stop the situation from getting more complicated.