Why do people bite or chew inside their cheeks? What does it mean? Get more insight including causes, symptoms, effects, and how to stop it.
Why do I keep biting the inside of my cheeks? I have read and heard people complain about this problem. I too have the problem where I keep biting them while eating, nervous, and at times when I am sleeping at night. It has not been bothering me until recently when I felt enough is enough.
Since I don’t like the swollen feeling due to continuous biting, I did some extensive research on various aspects including causes and remedies or treatments to deal with this bad habit I have and I want to share what I found out with you.
It is biting or linea alba
Before rushing to a conclusion, you need to know that it is normal to have a linea alba. That is “a horizontal streak on the inner surface of the cheek, level with the biting plane. It usually extends from the commissure to the posterior teeth and can extend to the inner lip mucosa and corners of the mouth” [Wikipedia.org].
Linea alba is associated with sucking force from teeth’s facial surface, pressure, frictional irritation, tobacco chewing, etc. It should not be mistaken by lesion from cheek biting since it does not require any treatment.
Some of the common symptoms you expect include white sore spots and oral lesions (frictional ketosis including canker sores). Also, tenderness, bleeding, scarring, swelling, irregular surface, redness, and a burning sensation. Especially where the upper and lower teeth meet.
Is cheek chewing dangerous or not? What are some of its effects? This is not a life-threatening problem but it does have some undesirable effects. For instance, infections, swelling, black spots (due to trauma), painful canker sores, black spots. Also and formation of callus if you keep on biting the same spot among many others.
If you suffer from mouth biting, specifically cheeks, there are many possible causes which include the following:
1. Careless chewing
Chewing while trying to do something else such as reading, talking, etc can make one bite her or himself. If you have the problem when eating, slow down your eating, and be focused. This is one of the causes of accidental bitings.
2. Wisdom teeth misalignment
To some people, this is not what they would wish to suffer from but it happens due to misalignment of teeth, especially the molars and premolars that do not close properly (teeth misalignment can also be due to missing tooth), due to temporomandibular joint disorder or ill-fitting dentures.
Having misaligned teeth can make someone develop a psychological problem. This happens when our brains realized and try to correct it by putting something between your teeth which in most instances ends up being your the lip or cheeks. This could result in constantly biting including the lip or tongue.
If you have misaligned teeth, go for checkup. Since it can cause other problems including to your lips, gum, or mouth in general.
3. Anxiety and nervous habits
Nervous or anxiety cheek biting is much like biting nails. Its root cause might have nothing to do with misaligned dentures or teeth. It happens unconsciously when someone is anxious or nervous. Some medications can lead to this anxiety disorder.
Training is required to get rid of such a habit. If you have this habit, try chewing sugarless gums or anything that will make you realized your habit i.e. replacer habit.
4. Accidental cases
Sometimes, this habit might have nothing to do with misaligned teeth or nervous habits but can be caused by accidents. It is normal for this to happen as you eat especially if you eat quickly, while you are talking. Also, if you are hit, during dental work or tooth extraction, by your dental appliances or piercing.
Ensure the ulcer that results is quickly treated since it raises the chances of it happening on the same spot again especially while it is swollen.
5. Compulsive cheek biting disorder OCD
If you suffer from this disorder, which is a kind of an “obsessive disorder where a person compulsively bite their own cheeks” [Rightdiagnosis.com]. In such a case, the patient can feel the pain but the stress relief and gratification feeling make them unable to stop the habit.
Some of the great ways of dealing with this include hypnosis, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and the use of medications.
Can it cause mouth or oral cancer
The discussion on whether this habit can lead to oral cancer is widespread. Some sources refute the fact while others seem to be supporting the idea but in extremely rare cases. For instance according to DR Chaudhary “repeated trauma of bites at the same place can cause an infection that leads to cancer” [Indiatimes.com].
On the other side, some doctors say biting of mouth, lip, or cheek cannot cause cancer i.e. “No worries. You may develop some scar tissue, but not cancer. Factors that can contribute to oral cancer include heavy alcohol use, tobacco in all forms including chewing tobacco, and HPV infection” Dr. Forrest Jones, [Healthtap.com].
Finally, according to Dr. Connelly, “Any chronic mouth lesion could develop cancer over the long term, but the research and final word are spotty” [Beautylish.com].
In sleep at night
Just a teeth grinding, some people have this problem while in sleep. This is something that they do unconsciously and they only realize when they wake up in the morning. You will wake up with soreness (hurting pain) and swelling. Sometimes even with jaw soreness.
The cause of cheek biting in sleep has been associated with the previous day’s stress. It is advisable to sleep with mouth guards if you do not want to bite them or your tongue, lips, gums, or mouth while you are asleep.
Chronic cases, otherwise known as morsicatio buccarum refer to repetitive biting, nibbling, or chewing on the inside lining of your cheeks that often cause chronic injury and irritation of the buccal mucosa (a lining).
It might exist with linea alba and it will have white lesions (damaged buccal mucosa lining) “with thickening and shredding of mucosa commonly combined with intervening zones of erythema (redness) or ulceration” [Wikipedia.org].
It is caused by cheek chewing habits, poor prosthetic teeth construction, and chronic suction of buccal mucosa among other causes.
Morsicatio buccarum can be treated with dental guards i.e. “acrylic prosthesis that covers the biting surfaces of the teeth and protects the cheek, tongue and labial mucosa” [Wikipedia.org] which should be used for long or short term especially during night sleep.
How to stop cheek chewing
No one wants this problem whether it is when they are eating, sleeping, habitual, accidental, or by a disorder. The best way to deal with this problem is knowing what causes it and dealing with the underlying cause. While looking at causes, we already mentioned some treatments or remedies that are related to that cause.
Some of the common ways to manage or stop this habit include the following:
1. Relaxation therapy and stress management
One of the great cure is trying relaxation. It will be effective whether it happens out of boredom, anxiety, stress, or a habit. Many techniques include deep breathing, Qigong, meditation, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra, visualization, self-hypnosis, biofeedback among others.
These are dental appliances that are worn not to treat but prevent and control this problem. Most of them are removable shields while a few could be permanent.
3. Bite correction and jaw alignment
Surgical and non-surgical bite correction is often recommended to people whose cause is due to crooked teeth especially the molars and premolars. If your jaws are misaligned, they can also be aligned through various procedures that include plastic surgeries.
You need to be aware of the fact that this habit is not healthy and needs to be corrected. Once you have the awareness, complement it with the right treatment depending on the cause.
5. Give distractions
People who have compulsive biting of the inside of cheek disorder or those who do it habitually need to be given alternative distractions such as chewing gums or replacement therapies to help deal with this problem.
In addition to this, ensure you eat carefully and slowly if you want to stop accidental cases. Especially when you are eating, carefully choose your dental appliances and piercings. Avoid rubbing or sucking your cheeks against your teeth. Also, see a dentist for further advice on treatment after the correct diagnosis.
Lesion and infection
As mentioned earlier, this habit can result in sores or lesions that could be painful and encourage further injuries if they are swollen or they could be infected. Some of the ways to treat these lesions include:
- The first is by swishing a mixture of one part of hydrogen peroxide in about four parts of water (or 3% diluted hydrogen peroxide) will help speed up wound healing. Saline or salt water will also work well.
- Try using chlorhexidine mouthwash to reduce swelling as well as pain. Tea tree oil mouthwashes are equally encouraged.
- Dabbing vanilla extract on the affected site
- Rinse your mouth with a mixture of ½ teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water or cool chamomile tea.
- Put aspirin on the infected area and if you have any aching pain, try taking ibuprofen.