About 750 out of every 1 million people are chronic cheek biters, according to a recent study done by the US National Library of Medicine. Now, we have all accidentally clamped down on the side of the cheek, and we know how bad it hurts. So why would anyone choose to chronically nibble at such a sensitive area of the mouth? Turns out there are a number of reasons so many of us are habitual biters.
There is no simple cause evident for chronic cheek biting. Studies do provide a number of possible reasons for such behavior, and it seems the most regularly noted reason for cheek biting, linked across studies, is stress.
There were a few other similarities in the studies. It turns out chronic cheek biting is seen more in females than in males. And, it is a behavior found to be more prevalent in children than adults. Though these two important findings are not reasons for chronic cheek biting, they do provide specific groups from which we can, hopefully, derive specific answers.
The Psychology Behind Chronic Cheek Biting
Even though we don’t yet completely understand why chronic cheek biting occurs, there are a lot of respected ideas and opinions on the topic.
Some researchers believe this chronic behavior is due to genetics, and if we make the efforts to research our own histories we can find out how likely we are to raise our own little cheek biters. Critics have combated this reasoning with the notion that even if genetics are to blame, we still don’t have a source or clear reason for the behavior. Plus, even if genetics do play a part, there can still be other factors at play, such as stress, environment, and emotional imbalance.
Many agree stress is related to chronic cheek biting; most believe it is the source for the behavior. For those who are chronic biters, test this theory by taking note when you are biting—are you stressed? Anxious or nervous? Try and pin down that most common state-of-mind you find yourself in when biting. This could be the culprit.
The Dangers of Cheek Biting
So what’s the big deal anyhow? Nobody has died from biting the inside of his cheek. This is true, but we don’t know a whole lot on the topic, so to rule out the dangers—beyond the obvious ones—might not be wise. What we do know is that when chronic cheek biting occurs, the biting is superficial; these are not deep bites that bleed and become sore—at least not right away. The bites are tiny and painless, but after time when the membrane has been worn down, sores can begin to form. Research also indicates that those who bite chronically usually have their “favorite” spots to chew.
Here is what happens when chronic cheek biting occurs:
- The bitten area becomes scarred and tough and inflamed. This becomes uncomfortable and makes chewing and talking difficult.
- Once the area is bitten most people find themselves biting more in the attempt to create a smooth surface; this, however, just exacerbates the problem.
- Extreme cases can leave open sores in the mouth—which can then become infected.
- Research is not completely clear on the connection between the two, but some researchers believe cheek biting can lead to cancer.
Stopping the Act
The good news is that chronic cheek biting is a behavior and can be corrected. The first step is to pay extra attention to when you are eating. Often times we begin biting an area that has already been chomped on by accident. Also, if you have a misalignment this could greatly increase your chances of accidentally biting the inside of your mouth.
One way to stop biting once you have already started is to substitute the habit every time you catch yourself in the act. Sugarless gum and mints are good substitutes, but you might try and stop the habit without a replacement—it could be easier than you think.
Remember that cheek biting is a behavior, a habit, and one that can be stopped. It may take a few times to get there, but you can do it. If you find yourself biting due to misalignment, or you just need some extra advice, come see us at South Charlotte Dentistry.