We all have gone through incidences of biting our cheek at least once in our life. Often people take it as a coincidence and forget about it.

However, cheek biting is not always accidental. Many people develop this habit as a response to stress and nervousness.

Repetitive cheek biting can be a sign of mental health condition; for example, an obsessive-compulsive disorder caused by stress and anxiety.

Chronic cheek biting is considered to be a body-focused repetitive behavior that corresponds to anxiety problems.

Cheek biting usually starts during late childhood and continues in adulthood unless strict measures are taken to avoid this behavior.

Often, such behavior is repeated despite continuing attempts to stop the habit. These habits become disorders when they start to affect the health and quality of a person’s life.

This article is mainly focused on educating you about cheek biting, its causes, and effects on oral health. The article also entails some effective therapies that can help a person to stop the habit of cheek biting.

What is cheek biting?

Cheek biting is a body-focused repetitive behavior wherein a person tends to clench their teeth down on the inner cheek. Cheek biting is not just a bad habit. It is a chronic act of stress and anxiety relief. (1)

Usually, cheek biting is done while sleeping. Obsessive repetitions of cheek biting over a long time can significantly impact oral health. Mouth sores, oral ulcers, pain, and discomfort, are some of the common symptoms of chronic cheek biting.

What causes cheek biting?

Cheek biting is not caused merely by one factor. It is a collection of behavioral patterns that collectively cause the person to develop cheek biting.

Subconscious reaction to boredom

Often people start to bite on their cheek when they feel a bump or uneven texture on the inner lining of the cheek. This activity exacerbates the lesion, makes it more prominent and tempts the person to continue cheek biting.

Most of the times, these reactions are a subconscious reaction to boredom. 

Excessive stress

Commonly, chronic cheek biting develops as a response to extreme stress, anxiety or nervousness. Stress often increases the activity of jaw muscles which leads to the habit of biting on the cheek subconsciously. (2)

Bruxism

Bruxism is an oral disorder which is characterized by clenching or grinding of the teeth. Usually, this event happens while sleeping. Cheek biting is one of the oral effects of jaw clenching.

What are the types of cheek biting?

Primarily, five types of cheek biting can occur –

  • Periodic accidental cheek biting – this common form of cheek biting happens while chewing food or talking. Periodic accidental cheek biting is relatively harmless and doesn’t affect oral health.
  • Regular accidental cheek biting – this form is similar to periodic accidental cheek biting except that it happens more frequently in a day. Some of the main reasons for regular accidental cheek biting may be misaligned teeth and improper occlusion. This habit can be corrected by aligning the teeth with braces treatment.
  • Cheek biting while sleeping – sleep cheek biting is often a result of stress and anxiety. Bruxism is also related to sleep cheek biting. Use of mouth guard while sleeping can help to reduce the oral effects of cheek biting.
  • Habitual cheek biting – this form is a continues intentional effort made by the person during the day time. Habitual cheek biting is different from body-focused repetitive behaviors as habitual cheek biting can be controlled easily.
  • Body-focused repetitive behavior – this form of cheek biting is dangerous and difficult to control. Stress reduction and therapy are the only way to reduce the incidence of body-focused repetitive behavior.

How does cheek bite affect oral health?

Mouth sores and ulcers are a common consequence of cheek biting. However, chronic cheek biting can be associated with the following risks –

  • Oral cancer – chronic irritation of the cheek may cause oral sores in the mouth. Over time, a continuous habit of cheek biting has the potential to initiate oral carcinogenesis in such lesions.
  • Hyperkeratosis – the body, has a defense mechanism for all types of traumatic events. During cheek biting, the body creates a protective covering over the mucosal irritation caused by cheek biting. This layer is made by keratin cells. The keratin forms a dense patch over the lesion to protect the soft tissue.
  • Traumatic ulcer – canker sores, mouth ulcers, and mucosal irritations are all harmful effects of cheek biting.

How to correct cheek biting?

The treatment of cheek biting depends on the cause. Some of the standard treatment options may include –

  • Braces treatment – misaligned teeth create a significant difference in the bite. Often, a person with improper occlusion develops the habit of cheek biting. Orthodontic braces help to align the teeth correctly to make the occlusion better. As a result, the habit of cheek biting gets controlled. (3)
  • Mouth guard – one of the common causes of cheek biting is clenching or grinding of teeth during sleep. Mouth guards protect the teeth from grinding one another and also protects the soft tissues from any mucosal irritation or ulcer formations.
  • Relaxation therapies – this treatment is beneficial to calm a person and release stress, anxiety or nervousness which often contributes to the development of cheek biting.
  • Laser treatments – if there is a bump of hard tissue mass on the lining of the cheek, it can be corrected by laser removal of the tissue. (4)

Take away message

Cheek biting is a habitual behavior of putting pressure on the inner linings of the cheek which may cause traumatic ulcers, mouth sores and mucosal irritations in the mouth.

The most common causes of cheek biting include excessive stress and misaligned teeth.

The critical step in treating cheek bite is to identify the type of cheek biting a person has developed. Appropriate therapies can help to relieve the habit of cheek biting and restore the oral health of the individual.

Depending on the type of cheek biting, a visit to the dentist or a psychologist can help to break this behavioral pattern further and lead a healthy stress-free life.

Cheek biting is a body-focused repetitive behavior wherein a person tends to clench their teeth down on the inner cheek.