Absent-mindedly nibbling on your cheek may seem like a harmless habit. But if you're doing it too often or regularly, it's time for a long hard look. But how bad can it get? And when should you be worried? According to research, there are some underlying causes that could warrant attention and others that can be easily fixed. Either way, digging deeper could ease your concerns and nip the nibble in the bud.
Absent-mindedly nibbling on your cheek may seem like a harmless habit. But if you’re doing it too often or regularly, it’s time for a long hard look. According to research, some of the underlying causes for cheek biting warrant attention while others can be easily fixed. So how bad can it get? And when should you be worried?
Understanding Cheek Biting
Cheek biting is, quite simply, the habit some of us have of chewing on our cheeks from inside the mouth. You may do it when you’re preoccupied, nervous, or anxious, and without even realizing you are! But what are some of the problems you might experience as a result of biting your cheeks? And if your cheek biting isn’t just another “habit”, what is it? Research shows that a range of underlying conditions may be causing you to nibble on your cheek persistently – and you may need professional medical help if that’s the case.
How Are You Hurting Yourself?
Before you dive into the underlying reasons behind your cheek biting, check for signs of any of the problems listed below. If they’re causing you a lot of pain or discomfort, get the injuries treated before anything else.
Oral Lesions And Sores
Morsicatio Buccarum is the specific name given to oral lesions like canker sores or white sores that are present in most habitual cheek biters. They cause the tissue in the cheek to look paler than the surrounding area due to constant maceration. It might even seem white compared to the mucosa around it. The tissue could also be thickened or scarred. If it has erosions, it may cause your inner cheek surface to feel irregular. The repeated trauma of being bitten can cause the surface of the cheek to develop black spots. Calluses can also form due to this repetitive biting of the same spot. All of these symptoms, also known as oral frictional hyperkeratosis, are comparable to the calluses on your hands or feet from repetitive friction.1
Cheek biting can easily become habitual, especially in the face of stressful events. As one report points out, the severity as well as how often this biting behavior shows up may be connected to the amount of stress the individual undergoes. It is not uncommon for cheek biting to become an enduring neurosis, resulting in inflammatory lesions in the area of the cheek. The area could swell up due to the trauma and it could result in a burning sensation in the cheek area where your lower and upper teeth join.2
Soreness And Bleeding
Like some chronic cheek biters, you may also experience soreness or tenderness in the inner cheek area in the mouth. You could also find scars from the incessant chewing or biting. The area may show some redness or start bleeding.
Is Cheek Biting A Symptom Of A Bigger Problem?
One simple explanation for cheek biting is a dental problem like misaligned teeth or temporomandibular joint disorder. Due to a problem with your teeth lineup, you may find yourself constantly missing and biting your cheek inadvertently. In this case, your dentist should be able to help correct the problem.3
The question that has most people concerned, though, is whether cheek biting could increase chances of developing oral cancer. And by all accounts, the simple answer is – no. As researchers explain, this habit is “an innocuous condition” and therefore has no implications as far as your chances of developing oral cancer are concerned.4 However, the Oral Cancer Foundation cautions that it is easy to mistake a tissue change which could be cancerous for a simple bite or scar from your cheek-biting habit. For habitual cheek biters, it’s vital to have a sudden change in the color of the tissue or a newly developed sore checked by a medical professional, especially if it does not heal in about 14 days time.5
According to researchers, cheek biting is not very different from some manifestations of other impulse control disorders.6 Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders (OCRDs) commonly result in repetitive behavior like nail biting and cheek chewing. The action of biting your cheek is believed to be a purely motor behavior and is independent of any cognitive trigger. Experts are able to tell the difference between a cheek-biting “habit” and an OCRD-linked biting symptom depending on whether or not it interferes with your social functioning, occupational function, or other aspects of daily life.7
Chronic biting is also seen in children who have psychological or developmental problems. Self-inflicted injuries like cheek biting is a common symptom. This can be overcome with the help of counseling, the use of prosthetic shields, or medication if needed. One of the more serious injuries you could get from cheek biting is oral lesions that come from biting oral mucosa, something researchers suggest may be prevented by the use of a soft mouth guard.8
Stress is also a trigger for cheek biting, especially in those already predisposed to this habit. If anxiety is resulting in a bout of cheek biting, overcoming the trigger can help reduce the biting. Mindfulness training and meditation come highly recommended by experts, and some studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in controlling symptoms.9
Cheek biting may also present in those with Lesch–Nyhan syndrome or juvenile gout. This motor dysfunction disorder accompanied by the excessive production of uric acid can cause behavioral problems, cognitive issues, and also muscular problems requiring a lot of physical assistance.10
Your cheek biting could thus be a symptom of something bigger if it’s triggered by any of these reasons. Which is why it’s important to have it looked at by a professional. It may be nothing more than an annoying habit you have developed, but why take a chance?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Oral frictional hyperkeratosis, NHS UK.|
|2, 8.||↑||Bhatia, Sarabjot Kaur, Ashima Goyal, and Aditi Kapur. “Habitual biting of oral mucosa: A conservative treatment approach.” Contemporary clinical dentistry 4, no. 3 (2013): 386.|
|3.||↑||Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.|
|4.||↑||Flaitz, Catherine M., and S. Felefli. “Complications of an unrecognized cheek biting habit following a dental visit.” Pediatric dentistry 22, no. 6 (2000): 511-511.|
|5.||↑||Oral Cancer Facts, Oral Cancer Foundation.|
|6.||↑||Sarkhel, Sujit, Samir Kumar Praharaj, and Sayeed Akhtar. “Cheek-biting disorder: Another stereotypic movement disorder?.” Journal of anxiety disorders 25, no. 8 (2011): 1085-1086.|
|7.||↑||Phillips, Katharine A., and Dan J. Stein, eds. Handbook on obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. American Psychiatric Pub, 2015.|
|9.||↑||Hoge, Elizabeth A., Eric Bui, Luana Marques, Christina A. Metcalf, Laura K. Morris, Donald J. Robinaugh, John J. Worthington, Mark H. Pollack, and Naomi M. Simon. “Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry 74, no. 8 (2013): 786-792.|
|10.||↑||Hall, Scott, Chris Oliver, and Glyn Murphy. “Self‐injurious behaviour in young children with Lesch‐Nyhan syndrome.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 43, no. 11 (2001): 745-749.|