It took me a while to realize that I have severe anxiety and compulsive behavior: cheek biting or morsicatio buccarum. It is a body-focused repetitive behavior where the person bites or chews the soft tissue of the inside of the cheek or upper and lower lips. It ranges from a psychological event in response to high levels of stress and anxiety to misaligned teeth that can be fixed with common dental procedures.
I have the common overbite but my teeth are not heavily misaligned. I know this because it was not critical that I wore braces as a child to my young adulthood. I very much so believe that I bottled up my anxiety and stress that I faced as a child without knowing it. I remember any time I wanted to say something but I was too shy to express myself, I would bite my cheeks instead. I believe I was aware that I chewed my cheeks when I was around 7. My father used to scold me about it but I would not stop. He mentioned that my auntie had the same behavior and I must have gotten it from her.
I had spells of creating nasty sores in my mouth that would prevent me from eating normally. For instance, I couldn’t enjoy tasty spicy foods. Eating with a hole in your mouth is not the best feeling in the world. It’s like pouring alcohol over a gaping wound except the wound is in your mouth. However, when I created massive sores from my excessive chewing, I stopped for a while. As soon as the wound would heal, I needed to make it evenly smooth in my mouth. I found the uneven spot with my tongue and picked it with my teeth. I continued to pick at the wound more until it barely healed or it opened up again. This process is a sign of compulsive behavior, something that is bigger than common dental problems.
I dealt with this cycle throughout high school and college. It helped me focus on the high-stress situations I dealt with as a young adult. After breaking up with my ex-boyfriend, I put my strength and spirit into not biting my cheeks. My main reason was so that I can kiss potential mates without feeling insecure about the inside of my mouth. I wanted to kiss without feeling shameful about my behavior. It was enough to motivate me for about two years! I was so happy and confident. I was really living my best life. I found a great boyfriend and we were preparing to move to Texas so that I can attempt graduate school.
Here’s the plot twist. I wish that I could say that I continued to not chew my cheeks. When I decided to drop out of my analytical chemistry graduate program, I was devastated. I felt that I let a lot of people down. I wasn’t good enough. I was a failure. I realized that I was following a path that didn’t create the passion I desired. I was stressed because I didn’t know what to do next in my career path. I started to bite my cheeks again except it felt like it returned with a vengeance. My boyfriend (now fiance) noticed it and tried to help as best as he could. But as I learned, cheek biting is something that takes patience to cease.
For the next four years, I cycled with creating massive sores in my mouth and then picking at the healing wounds. I was aware of when I chewed my cheeks. For example, I chewed my cheeks when I had to think about answers for interview questions or in a social setting when I became shy and anxious. Then, something overcame me and I had to stop this habit. If I did it before, why was it so hard for me to stop now?
I used a mixture of coconut and peppermint oil to help heal the wounds in my mouth and deter from biting my cheeks. I even tried chewing gum. Both practices were short-lived. I knew I needed to try professional help.
I went to a hypnotherapist for about three sessions. It was worth the price because it expanded my view on hypnotherapy and provoked me to be more mindful about my anxiety. I would basically describe my experience with hypnotherapy as a guided meditation. The sessions pulled out my subconsciousness and forced me to really think about why I bit my cheeks. I learned that I had pressure to be a successful daughter, cousin, and niece. I learned that I had a fear of authority which made me feel that I couldn’t express myself to co-workers that were in a higher position than me. I also learned that I was not fully grateful for my current life experiences.
When I stopped going to my hypnotherapy sessions, the urge to bite my cheeks slowed down but did not completely stop. I am not sure what exactly provoked me to find a mantra late at night (for some reason my best thoughts come at night). I found a blog article about an individual’s journey to stop biting their cheeks. It mentioned that they stopped their cheek biting habits by saying a form of this mantra to themselves, “I am sorry cheeks for biting you. I am sorry for using my tongue and teeth to cause harm to my cheeks. I promise to not hurt you again”.
I believe this way of personifying the inner-lining or the soft tissue of the cheeks helped me become responsible and accountable for the trauma caused by cheek biting. I am happy to say that since I started that mantra I chewed my cheeks less and eventually stopped. When I had the urge and felt my tongue move to bite the soft tissue, I said that mantra and it helped! It has been about three months now since the time of posting this article that I have not bitten or chewed my cheeks. The best thing is I no longer have the urge to bite my cheeks! The process to stop my repetitive behavior is a very small but gratifying accomplishment. The most important thing is that I learned to identify stress triggers that will stimulate my anxiety and just breathe. I learned to breathe into my mantra or my intention and realize that whatever is triggering my anxiety shall pass and I am bigger than that trigger.
I really hope that by sharing my journey of identifying when and why I bit my cheeks and how I discovered a path to cease my compulsive behavior will help anyone facing similar situations. I am grateful that I can overcome this challenge and help others do the same.