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Stress, commonly related to work, family, health, and other issues, has become a great burden of modern society. Anxiety disorders go hand in hand with this phenomenon. Symptoms common to all anxiety disorders include hot and cold flushes, an increased heartbeat, undefined forms of chest pain, snowballing worries, and sometimes phobia and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Besides those usual symptoms, there are examples of habitual changes that often involve involuntary and unconsciously performed actions such as lip and cheek biting, sleepwalking, and overeating.


The professional term for cheek biting is morsicatio buccarum (from the Latin morsus - to bite). It represents a relatively rare behavioral pattern usually referred to dermatologists, oral surgeons, and dentists where a person compulsively bites their own cheek. Common variations are lip biting (morsicatio labiorum) and tongue biting (morsicatio linguarum). These actions are performed by grasping the tissue of cheek, lips, or tongue between the teeth and tearing them free. These behaviors are habit-forming and offer stress relief to patients.

It has been reported that these behavioral patterns are the most frequent in people aged between 35 and 44 (10%) while the frequency in younger people is somewhat lower. These high incidences show that these disorders are relatively common, but in rare severe cases they can jeopardize one's health. Although this condition is obviously related to stress and anxiety, not many studies have dealt with it. Cheek biting can be accompanied by some other repetitive behaviors, such as hair pulling (trichotillomania), nose picking, skin picking, and nail biting.


The most common consequences of compulsive cheek and lip eating include ulcerations of cheek mucosa, swelling, and bleeding. Although the cheek mucosa is one of the fastest regenerating tissues in the body, it can sometimes be damaged beyond repair. Frequent ulcerations often lead to scarring. Damaged tissue is more susceptible to local as well to systemic infections caused by plenty of bacteria that are present in the mouth.

If you experience episodes of compulsive lip and cheek biting, nail biting, nose picking, skin picking, and other behaviors, you should explore what the cause of your anxiety could be in detail.

This can also be the first sign of anxiety disorder development, so you should visit your psychiatrist and discuss this issue. Currently, scientists dealing with this issue are making efforts to define this disorder and propose diagnostic criteria. More systematic studies are however needed to investigate all the features and accompanying factors of this group of disorders.

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