Cheek chewer reaches out
Dear Dr. Roach: No one seems to understand a bad habit of mine, especially dentists! I bite off the loose skin on the inside of my cheeks. I remove little bits of cheek matter that is loose and sort of just hangs and is rough. It’s sort of like picking at a scab or a hang nail. Once I start, I can’t stop until it’s removed. Usually I end up just nervously hunting with my tongue to find another uneven spot.
I know it’s unsightly to see me maneuvering my mouth around to bite off another fragment of cheek, so I don’t do it when I’m around people. During my 30-minute commute to work and when I’m alone and thinking/pondering, I find myself biting away. It’s automatic and very frustrating.
Every dentist recommends a night guard for nighttime teeth grinding, as I’m wearing my teeth down. My father had this habit, and so does my sister. I’d love your help and insight on this matter. — M.B.
Answer: Dentists should know about this not uncommon condition called morsicatio buccarum. I’m sure most do, as the appearance of the inside of the cheek can be similar to other, more serious conditions.
It is a compulsive behavior, which some people are not even aware they have, related to behaviors like trichotillomania (pulling out hair) and bruxism (teeth grinding). These conditions and cheek biting often occur in the same person.
There are two types of treatment for morsicatio buccarum. One is the night guard, which protects your teeth and your cheeks while you sleep. Some people with severe symptoms may be recommended to use the mouth guard during the day.
The second type of treatment is psychological. This starts with recognizing when you are doing it and under what kinds of situations. Emotional stress is a big one, which might be the case during your commute, for example. These compulsive behaviors provide some kind of relief from stress, so the second part of the treatment is to find a less harmful way to get the same relief. Chewing gum or practicing breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques can be helpful. Some people benefit from seeing a therapist to help find ways of managing stress that are healthier than these repetitive behaviors.
I found helpful information at www.bfrb.org/learn-about-bfrbs/
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