Morsicatio buccarum, also known as chronic cheek biting, is a repetitive and compulsive behavior. It can result in bleeding, inflammation, and damage to the inner cheek.

The name is Latin, derived from “morusus,” which means to bite, and “bucca,” meaning the cheek.

This article explores morsicatio buccarum in more detail, including why the condition happens. We also discuss the potential risks, complications, and treatment options.

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Morsicatio buccarum is more commonly known as chronic cheek biting.

It is a behavior where a person repeatedly bites down on the inside of their cheek, which may be a deliberate or subconscious action.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) classifies morsicatio buccarum as a body-focused repetitive disorder, a subcategory of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

Chronic cheek biting affects approximately 750 in 1 million individuals and is more common in females than males.

There are a few different types of cheek biting:

  • Accidental: This is something that happens to everybody. A person may accidentally bite their cheek while eating, talking, or partaking in sports.
  • Regular accidental: If someone accidentally bites their cheek regularly, this may be due to jaw or dental problems. A person should consult a doctor or dentist to see if this is the case.
  • Sleep biting: Some people may bite their cheeks while they are asleep. They could use a specialist appliance while sleeping to stop this.
  • Habitual cheek biting: This is usually a subconscious behavior that is simply a habit. A person may be able to unlearn this behavior with therapy.
  • Chronic cheek biting: Otherwise known as morsicatio buccarum, chronic cheek biting occurs when someone cannot stop cheek biting on their own.

Cheek biting can happen for a variety of reasons. A person who bites their cheeks may not even realize they are doing so.

It may occur as a reaction to stress, anxiety, or boredom. Some people may even bite their cheek in their sleep.

Research suggests that some people facing stressful situations may bite their cheeks. A 2019 study discovered an association between cheek biting and individuals with depression.

A person may also bite their cheek in the following situations:

  • by accident when eating or talking
  • while distracted during another task
  • if they have problems with their wisdom teeth or jaw
  • if they have problems with a dental device

According to the TLC Foundation, body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as chronic cheek biting, could be inherited.

After a person begins cheek biting, the condition may worsen as they try to smooth the skin by biting it further.

The following options are available to treat chronic cheek biting:

Home remedies

A person could try the following home remedies:

  • Chewing gum: If cheek biting is a habit, chewing gum may help to provide a distraction. Sugar-free gum is better for dental health.
  • Breathing techniques: A person can try breathing techniques whenever they feel the urge to bite their cheek.
  • Meditation and mindfulness: A person whose cheek biting results from anxiety could try meditation and mindfulness techniques. Various apps and exercises of this type are available online.
  • Eliminating triggers: If a person is able to identify the triggers that cause them to bite their cheek, they can try to avoid them.

Therapy

A doctor may refer a person with chronic cheek biting to see a therapist. Therapy might be beneficial for those whose cheek biting is in response to anxiety, stress, or depression.

Types of therapy a person receives may include:

In these therapy sessions, a person may learn breathing and relaxation techniques. These techniques can help if someone performs them when feeling the urge to bite their cheek.

Therapists may also encourage a person to keep a journal where they can document when they bite their cheek. This will help identify any triggers associated with the habit.

Therapists may also teach a person to use imagery techniques to help calm them when they are particularly stressed or anxious.

Hypnosis is another therapy people may use to assist with changing or eliminating habits.

Medical interventions

In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication in addition to therapy to a person experiencing chronic cheek biting. These may include medications that reduce anxiety or stress, such as antidepressants.

If cheek biting is severe and the above techniques do not work, a person could use a mouth guard or dental device. These devices can help protect the inner cheek.

A 2021 case study of a 9-year-old girl with morsicatio buccarum suggests a soft appliance placed on the affected area may be a suitable treatment. However, the habit and oral lesions returned once the girl stopped using it.

A few risks associated with chronic cheek biting may include:

  • painful sores or ulcers in the lining of the mouth
  • bleeding
  • redness
  • pain when eating or drinking
  • feelings of guilt and self-consciousness
  • inflammation
  • scars
  • erosion of soft tissues in the cheek

The resulting trauma to the cheek can cause irregularities in its texture, which may cause further biting in an attempt to smooth the surface.

There is some discussion over whether chronic cheek biting may cause oral cancer. A 2017 study concludes that cheek biting alone cannot cause oral cancer, but the behavior may worsen oral cancer if present.

Everyone occasionally bites their cheek. This is not a cause for concern.

However, a person should consider contacting their doctor for advice if:

  • they find themselves biting their cheek frequently
  • they are causing damage to their inner cheek
  • they cannot control this behavior

“Morsicatio buccarum” is the Latin term for chronic cheek biting. It is a compulsive behavior where a person has difficulty stopping the habit.

It may happen for various reasons, and many treatments are available, including home remedies, therapy sessions, and some medical interventions.

Chronic cheek biting can result in sores and ulcers on the inner lining of the cheek. A person should contact a doctor if they find they cannot control this behavior.