If you’re like most people, you have most likely experienced the pain of accidentally biting the inside of your cheek while chewing – and then continuing to bite the same spot over and over for days, because it’s now in the way of your bite. But why do we do this- and what can we do to stop it? We asked Dr. Michelle Simpson of Wilmington, NC to give us the lowdown on cheek biting.
Though frequent or intentional cheek biting can be a sign of a bigger problem, such as TMJ disorder or a nervous or stress related condition, most of the time when cheek biting occurs, it's merely accidental and no cause for concern. Still, cheek bite injuries are particularly frustrating because they feel like they take forever to heal. This is probably because not only is the injury now right in the way of our bite, causing it to be re-bitten, but it can also become irritated by certain foods- especially if it’s an open or fresh wound. Unfortunately, unlike an external wound, we can’t just put some bacitracin on it and cover it with a bandage. Thankfully the mouth really does heal faster than the rest of the body, so if you can manage to not re-injure it repeatedly, it should theoretically clear up quickly. If you do want to help it along, Dr. Michelle Simpson recommends rinsing your mouth with salt water or alcohol-free mouthwash after eating, to keep the injury clean. It is important to keep the injured area clean because any wound in the mouth is susceptible to infection thanks to the plaque and bacteria already present in the mouth.
So, what causes those accidental cheek bites, anyway? After all, most of the time we manage not to bite our cheeks- what is so different those few times that we accidentally miss? Dr. Simpson believes it's usually a simple case of carelessness or distracted eating. Says Simpson "If you try to recall what you were doing when you bit your cheek, chances are you weren’t really focused on chewing. You may have been talking, walking, or possibly just eating too quickly or taking too big of a bite." Talking while chewing, or over-filling your mouth can easily cause your bite to misalign, putting your cheek in the path of your teeth. Furthermore, when you are distracted with other activities like walking, watching TV, or reading while you eat, you may be more focused on the other activity, and accidentally bite down at the wrong time, or in the wrong place.
Thankfully, though accidental cheek bites are painful, they’re easy to prevent. "Slow down, take smaller bites, and focus on your meal," says Dr. Simpson. "When you are focused on your meal, you get the added benefit of enjoying the food you are eating, which will make the meal more satisfying. This is the same advice doctors give patients looking to control their weight, because by slowing down while you eat, you allow your mouth to experience the flavors of your food more thoroughly and you can better recognize when you're full."