Biting The Inside Of The Cheek: Understanding Your Habits

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated March 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There can be many different manifestations of anxiety that often range in severity, type, and frequency. Anxiety usually features common symptoms like mood changes, physical sensations, stomach problems, altered thoughts or cognition, and somatic symptoms that can be otherwise associated with medical illnesses. Something as innocuous as cheek biting could be a sign of an unaddressed anxiety disorder. 

If you frequently bite the inside of your cheek when you feel nervous, it can be helpful to practice a healthy lifestyle by eating whole foods and exercising regularly to decrease anxiety. Journaling and meditation can also be beneficial. Working with a licensed therapist online or in person can provide you with personalized guidance and insight regarding anxiety and cheek biting.

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Are you noticing anxiety symptoms in your life?
What's causing me to keep biting my cheek? 

Cheek biting, sometimes called cheek chewing, can occur for multiple reasons. An accidental cheek bite is not uncommon and sometimes occurs when people are chewing. However, regular accidental cheek biting can cause damage to the oral mucosa or mouth tissue in the inner cheek, potentially resulting in a canker sore. These painful sores can make it easy to accidentally bite the injured area again.  

Frequent accidental cheek biting can be a sign of dental problems. Frequent accidental cheek biting can be a sign of dental problems like misaligned teeth. Wisdom teeth sometimes grow at an angle that can lead to chronic cheek biting, especially of the inner cheek.

A dentist can diagnose accidental bites resulting from dental issues. They can also help with accidental cheek biting during sleep by providing a device or mouthguard to prevent the teeth from biting the cheek during sleep. In many cases, dentists can screen for oral cancers that may arise from damage to the inside of the mouth.
Habitual cheek biting as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB)
One form of chronic cheek biting may be a condition typically known as morsicatio buccarum, which is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, as a BFRB disorder. Other body-focused repetitive behaviors might include chronic skin picking, nail biting, lip biting, and hair pulling. This damaging behavior may act as a semiconscious coping method and be linked to other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders. 

A BFRB diagnosis with cheek biting symptoms can be effectively treated with a variety of treatment methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a form of CBT called habit reversal therapy. In addition, relaxation exercises and other healthy anxiety solutions like mindfulness practice can reduce anxiety-related biting and similar compulsive behavior patterns.

Although BFRB disorder may be similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they are not the same. People with BFRB might pull their hair, pick their skin, or bite their cheek compulsively to relieve feelings of tension or discomfort. In contrast, those with OCD carry out their repetitive behaviors, like hand washing or checking things, because of unwanted thoughts that make them feel as though something bad will happen if they don't perform these actions.

Chronic cheek biting as a symptom of anxiety 

Some of your habits may be the result of an undiagnosed or misunderstood anxiety disorder. Difficulty staying or falling asleep, nightmares, dizziness, headaches, light-headedness, shooting pain, numbness, and tingling can be a few physical symptoms that are sometimes overlooked or mischaracterized. 

Fear of losing control, losing mental stability, and a sense of impending doom can be common in those with recurrent anxiety. Additionally, phobias, over-exaggerated fear, over-reactivity, repetitive thoughts, obsessions, and compulsions can be other symptoms often associated with anxiety disorders.

Biting the inside of your cheek can be quite common, and it doesn’t necessarily point to an anxiety disorder. However, when a chronic cheek biter engages in this type of body-focused repetitive behavior compulsively, there is likely a reason for it. People tend to have habits they fall into when they are feeling particularly anxious. As an example, you might see some people rapidly moving one of their legs up and down as a sign of nervous energy. 

Anxiety-related cheek biting can be addressed through relaxation exercises, meditation, and other cognitive and behavioral therapies or self-help practices. However, appropriate medical attention with a conservative treatment approach may be required for symptoms like broken skin or severe bleeding inside the mouth to ensure all wounds are completely healed. 

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Other potential symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety symptoms may manifest emotionally or physically. They can include the following:

  • Feeling of being under pressure
  • Emotionally overreacting or detaching
  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Emotional overload
  • Memory impairment
  • Unexplained anger
  • Grouchiness
  • Lack of patience 
  • Having a tendency to stress eat
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling like your mouth is burning
  • Perceived urgency to urinate or vomit
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dry, watery, or itchy eyes
  • Spots in vision
  • Altered depth perception
  • Clenching of the jaw and grinding of the teeth, sometimes leading to TMJ pain or achy teeth or jaw
  • Frequent belching
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Rashes
  • Altered or major hearing loss

How severely can anxiety impact your life?

Anxiety has the potential to impact many aspects of your life. If you live with anxiety and are not seeking some type of treatment, it may get worse over time. For some people, coping with anxiety symptoms can become so challenging that it later prevents them from living normal lives. In the worst cases, anxiety might cause problems with a career path and can even hurt your relationships with friends or family.

The anxiety that you may be feeling can be difficult to manage on your own. Simply seeking treatment and talking to someone about what is going on can make a huge difference in your life, mental health, and overall well-being.

How you can manage anxiety

Anxiety habits can be quite taxing and even debilitating when not addressed. Some things you can do to help with anxiety habits like chronic cheek biting can include exercising, eating a healthy diet, meditating, journaling, and working with a licensed mental health professional.

If face-to-face therapy feels too intimidating or isn’t available to you, you might opt for online therapy instead. The ability to get the professional help you deserve from the comfort of your home can be empowering. Plus, online therapy is often more affordable than traditional in-office sessions.

Clinical studies have shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy can greatly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and other mental disorders, sometimes even better than in-person therapy. If you feel you’d benefit from working with a mental health professional, please don’t hesitate to reach out and get started.

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Are you noticing anxiety symptoms in your life?

Takeaway

If you frequently bite the inside of your cheek by accident, it's possible that it could be because of a wisdom tooth or another dental problem that a dentist would best address. But if you are biting the inside of your cheek due to anxiety or stress, it can be helpful to work through the source of your anxiety with a licensed professional. Online therapy can be a great option for talking about and resolving anxiety symptoms. You might also practice meditation, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and journal your thoughts and feelings.
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