How to Stop Biting Cheek: Causes, Effects, and Prevention Strategies

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Cheek biting, or morsicatio buccarum, is a prevalent issue that affects a significant portion of the population. According to research, up to approximately 750 in 1 million individuals experience cheek biting at some point in their lives. This habit can cause immediate pain and discomfort, and if left untreated, can lead to inflammation, scarring, and even oral cancer in rare cases.

In this article, we will explore the causes and negative effects of cheek biting on health, as well as effective strategies for preventing this habit.

What Is Cheek-Biting?

Cheek biting is a condition in which an individual repeatedly bites or chews on their inner cheek or lips. This can result in painful sores, inflammation, infection, and scarring. While occasional cheek biting is common and usually harmless, chronic cheek chewing or biting can lead to more severe health problems.

Cheek biting itself is not specifically listed as a separate, recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, cheek biting can be considered a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), which is a group of behaviors that includes hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking (excoriation disorder), and nail-biting (onychophagia).

While the DSM-5 does not have a specific category for cheek biting, it does recognize trichotillomania and excoriation disorder as separate disorders under the category “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.” These disorders share some similarities with cheek biting, as they all involve repetitive, self-destructive behaviors that can cause physical harm and emotional distress.

Although cheek biting is not recognized as a disorder in the DSM-5, it is essential to address and treat the behavior if it causes significant distress or impairment in a person’s life, especially if it develops into a compulsive behavior.

What Causes Cheek Biting?

Cheek biting can be caused by various factors, including stress, anxiety, nervousness, boredom, or a dysregulated nervous system. Excessive use of chewing gum can also contribute to this habit.

Research has shown that anxiety can be a significant contributor to obsessive cheek biting. When we feel anxious or stressed, our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol, which can increase tension in our muscles. This tension can lead to nervous habits such as cheek biting. When we experience chronic stress and anxiety, our body’s response to stressors tends to become dysregulated. We will dive more into the effects of a dysregulated nervous system below.

In addition to anxiety, other factors such as stress, nervousness, or boredom can also trigger cheek biting. It is important to identify the underlying cause of this habit and address it accordingly. If cheek biting is causing pain or discomfort, it is recommended to seek medical attention.

Is Cheek-Biting a Sign of Anxiety and Stress?

Cheek biting is a common habit that can appear harmless, but it can have adverse effects on your health. Biting the inside of your cheek frequently can cause immediate pain and discomfort. If you continue to bite the same area repeatedly, it can lead to inflammation, which can exacerbate the pain. 

It can also be a sign of anxiety or other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This habit is often associated with nervous habits that individuals develop when they are chronically stressed or anxious. 

Stress can certainly contribute to cheek biting, as it can cause an increase in nervousness or restlessness that can lead to biting or chewing on the cheeks or lips. In addition to accidental biting, chronic stress can lead to a dysregulated nervous system, which can further exacerbate cheek biting.

Can a dysregulated nervous system cause chronic cheek biting?

A dysregulated nervous system can also contribute to the development and maintenance of habitual cheek biting. The nervous system plays a crucial role in regulating our emotional and physiological responses to stress and anxiety. When we experience chronic stress and/or anxiety, the nervous system can become dysregulated, leading to an imbalance in our stress response system and making us more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can trigger the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can cause a range of physiological changes in the body. 

For instance, cortisol can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, which can make us more prone to developing nervous habits like habitual cheek biting.

Furthermore, a dysregulated nervous system can also affect our cognitive and emotional functioning, leading to negative thoughts and emotions that contribute to this habit. For example, if you are feeling anxious or stressed, you may be more likely to engage in behaviors that provide temporary relief, such as cheek biting. 

Therefore, addressing the underlying causes of chronic stress and anxiety – a dysregulated nervous system – can be an effective way to prevent and stop chronic biting.

How Can You Stop Biting Your Cheek Repetitively?

Several strategies can be used to stop obsessive cheek biting. These include nervous system regulation, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), habit reversal therapy (HRT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), wearing a mouthguard or night guard, medications, and natural remedies.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help individuals identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to cheek biting. 

Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT) is a type of behavioral therapy designed to help individuals break unwanted habits, such as cheek biting, nail-biting, hair pulling, and skin picking. HRT has been proven effective in treating various repetitive behavior disorders, including those associated with stress, anxiety, or compulsions.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based psychotherapy that has proven effective for various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and self-harm behaviors. DBT combines principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness practices, acceptance strategies, and dialectics, which emphasize the balance between acceptance and change. DBT can help with habitual biting by addressing the underlying emotional and cognitive factors that contribute to this habit.

Mouthguards can be used to prevent cheek biting, and there are different types available, including custom-fitted and over-the-counter options. 

Certain medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, can help reduce the urge to accidentally bite into your cheek, but they may also have potential side effects. 

Natural remedies such as physical activity and meditation can also help reduce stress and anxiety, which can contribute to cheek biting.

It is important to recognize the root cause of your chronic stress and anxiety: a dysregulated nervous system. If you are looking to prevent chronic stress and anxiety and subsequent cheek biting, healing a dysregulated nervous system is essential. 

The good news? Nervous system regulation is a natural remedy that can be done from the comfort of your own home. Nervous system regulation focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of nervous system dysregulation, such as chronic stress, trauma, and environmental toxins. The goal is to restore balance and harmony to the nervous system and develop new coping strategies, allowing individuals to better cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotional and physical challenges. If you are interested in learning more about nervous system regulation and how it can help you to stop biting your cheeks, please click here.

Conclusion

In conclusion, cheek biting is a prevalent issue that can result in pain, discomfort, and even long-term health complications if not addressed. Understanding the underlying causes, such as stress, anxiety, or a dysregulated nervous system, is crucial in implementing effective prevention strategies. Remember to seek professional help if necessary and focus on addressing stress and anxiety through nervous system regulation to create a lasting, positive change.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do you heal a bitten cheek?

To heal a bitten cheek, it is important to keep the area clean and avoid further irritation. Rinsing with salt water or mouthwash can help soothe the area and promote healing. Over-the-counter pain relievers or topical ointments can also be used to relieve pain and discomfort.

How long does it take for a bitten cheek to heal?

The time it takes for cheek bites to heal can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Minor bites may heal within a few days, while more severe bites may take weeks to heal completely.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.