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Can’t stop chewing on the inside of your mouth?

Cheek biting, also known as morsicatio buccarum, is a chronic condition characterised by repetitively biting the inside of the mouth.

Cheek biting, similar to nail biting, is a stress-related habit that stems from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, and if left untreated, can lead to serious health concerns.

We speak to dental surgeon Dr Richard Marques about the common causes and potential health implications of cheek biting:

What is cheek biting?

Cheek biting is a self-injurious habit, which can be undertaken either accidentally or repeatedly on purpose, and is considered a mental health disorder if it interferes with your quality of life or causes serious injury or distress.

‘Cheek biting is relatively common especially in urban cities, such as London, where stress levels tend to be higher,’ says Dr Marques. ‘However, severe cheek biting and habitual cheek biting are more rare.’

Cheek biting causes

Common triggers include stress, anxiety and boredom. Previous research also suggests that body-focused repetitive behaviours such as this often begin in late childhood and can last throughout adulthood.

‘Sometimes it happens when people are grinding their teeth or eating,’ says Dr Marques. ‘Other times people chew their cheeks as a habit. Cheek biting is usually seen as lesions, which appear as white patches, on the inside of the cheeks that corresponds with the area where the teeth meet. It can also affect the lips and tongue, although the cheeks are the most common.’

Cheek biting dangers

Cases of cheek biting vary in severity, from one-off occurrences to deep and painful self-inflicted injuries. The primary consequence of biting the inside of the cheek repeatedly is injury to your mouth tissue, which can lead to mouth sores and ulcers.

Often, cheek biters have a favourite area to nibble away at, meaning that they repetitively break the skin in the same place inside the mouth.

‘Pain and ulcers are the most harmless outcomes,’ says Dr Marques. ‘However, ulcers can cause problems, as they are liable to get bitten again once formed.’

How to stop cheek biting

If you find yourself persistently biting the inside of your mouth, you might benefit from a bite-guard. Ask your dentist for advice.

‘If grinding is the issue then a bite-guard worn during the night, or even during the day, can help to stop the trauma on the cheeks,’ advises Dr Marques. ‘This is a semi-rigid device that prevents the teeth grinding on each other and also covers the sharp areas of the cusps; the biting surface.’

Stress and cheek biting

If it’s stress-related or an obsessive-compulsive issue, then you might benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

To minimise the damage done by cheek biting, give the following tips a go and see if they help:

Identify your triggers

Find yourself chewing away when you have a looming deadline or presentation? Once you know what sets you off, you can find something else to chew on, the most obvious choice being gum.

Use lip balm

Similarly, if it is a lip-biting problem, applying lip gloss or lip balm may help you abstain, or at least make you realise what you are doing.


Lower your stress levels and provide alternative, healthy anxiety solutions such as regular exercise and meditation.

Try hypnotherapy

In some instances, hypnosis has been found to help with obsessive-compulsive habits. Find a hypnotherapist through the Professional Standards Authority.

by Jenny L. Cook

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