Do you consistently find yourself biting the insides of your cheek and realising only when the damage is done? This could be a compulsive behaviour called ‘Morsicatio Buccarum’, also known as chronic cheek biting. It is unlike an accidental cheek bite that causes pain and soreness for a while. We spoke to Dr Aravind MS, MD and Associate Professor, Oral Medicine and Maxillofacial Radiology, Amrita School of Dentistry, Kochi, to understand its causes and help you stop.
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What Causes Cheek Biting?
Here are some of the common causes of cheek biting:
Dr Aravind says, “Malocclusion is a condition where the teeth are misaligned or do not fit together properly.” According to him, this can cause the cheek to get caught between the teeth, leading to biting or chewing.
“Cheek biting can also be a habitual behaviour that develops over time,” says Dr Aravind. He adds saying that it can also occur with repeated behaviours like biting nails or lips.
Stress and Anxiety
Another common cause of cheek biting is stress and anxiety. Dr Aravind says, “When we are stressed or anxious, we may unconsciously bite our cheeks as a way of releasing tension.”
Psychological Reasons Of Cheek Biting
According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, cheek biting was associated with people with depression, only suggesting a psychological association with compulsive behaviour. Dr Aravind says, "Anxiety and stress are common causes of cheek biting. People who experience high levels of anxiety or stress may bite their cheeks as a way to cope with these emotions." However, the doctor shares other psychological reasons related to cheek biting:
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a mental health disorder characterised by obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviours. According to the doctor, cheek biting can be one of the compulsive behaviours associated with OCD.
Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs)
BFRBs are a group of disorders that lead to repetitive self-grooming behaviours, resulting in some kind of damage to the body. Cheek biting is one type of BFRB.
According to Dr Aravind, some people who are perfectionists may bite their cheeks as a way of relieving stress or anxiety related to their desire to be perfect.
Some people may bite their cheeks as a way of regulating their emotions. For example, biting the cheek may provide a sense of control during times of stress or anxiety, says Dr Aravind.
Complications To Note
Chronic cheek biting can lead to several complications. Dr Aravind says, “Chronic cheek biting can cause cancerous changes.” According to him, scientific evidence suggests long-term trauma can cause pre-cancerous changes in the oral mucosa. Some other potential risks include:
- Pain and discomfort in the mouth, making it difficult to eat, drink and open mouth
- Mouth sores and ulcers that take a long time to heal
- Dental problems, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth sensitivity
- Psychological distress including anxiety, embarrassment, and low self-esteem
Dr Aravind says, “If you are experiencing a chronic cheek biting, it is recommended to speak to a dental or medical professional to determine the underlying cause and to explore treatment options. Treatment may involve addressing any underlying psychological issues, dental treatment, or the use of habit reversal techniques to break the habit of cheek biting.”
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How To Stop Chronic Cheek Biting
For those of you who have been diagnosed with chronic cheek biting, here’s how you can stop:
- Identify the situations or emotions that lead to cheek biting
- Use a mouth guard as it can help prevent the cheek from getting caught between the teeth and reduce the likelihood of biting
- Practise mindfulness, such as deep breathing or meditation
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): It is a type of therapy that can help you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours
- Habit Reversal Training (HRT): It is a behaviour therapy that involves identifying the cues and behaviours associated with cheek biting and replacing the behaviour with a more positive one
Getting rid of cheek biting may not be as easy as it seems. It may require patience and a lot of self-regulation. That said, the doctor advises to seek help whenever necessary. Following all the measures listed above can also help break the habit of cheek biting.