Cheek and Tongue Biting
WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
* You frequently bite your cheek or tongue while chewing or speaking.
* Blood flow from a cheek or tongue bite doesn't stop within ten minutes or so.
What Your Symptom Is Telling You
When you bite your cheek or tongue, you create a small wound that's exactly the same as a canker sore. It may or may not bleed, depending on the bite's severity. But the amount of blood doesn't indicate the severity of the bite, for even a few drops mixed with some saliva can create a gory mess.
Fortunately, most such bites aren't severe. Unless you fall or are hit hard enough to bite yourself deeply, cheek and tongue bites are usually harmless little nips that sting for just a bit. But—in just the same way that 1 mosquito bite is an annoyance while 50 mosquito bites are intensely uncomfortable—these cheek and tongue bites can become a real nuisance if they're frequent. And that can happen if you have problems with your dentures or the alignment of your real teeth.
False teeth that slip and shift can cause you to miss your mark and bite your tongue, says JoAnne Allen, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Albuquerque. And if your real teeth are crooked or otherwise not properly placed, they too can make you chomp on your cheek.
So can poor table manners. "Think about it," Dr. Allen says. "What are you almost always doing when you bite your tongue? You're talking and eating at the same time. Your mother told you not to do that for a reason."
Nipping on your cheek can also be a nervous habit. "You create a little white line on the inside of your cheek called hyperkeratosis. It's like a callus," says Michael W. Dodds, Ph.D., who holds a bachelor of dental surgery and is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. "Although it's not a big deal, you should stop the habit, if at all possible."
The sting from a cheek or tongue bite probably will fade soon after you stop thinking about it. For relief, you can try any of the treatments mentioned in Canker Sores on page 87.
Let Jack Frost nip on your bite. If the bite has drawn blood, suck on an ice cube or hold cold water in your mouth until the bleeding slows, says J. Frank Collins, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida.
Clean it up. Swish an antiseptic mouthwash around the wound to prevent any chance of infection, Dr. Collins recommends. Listerine is a good choice.
Go to a mouth pro. If the bleeding doesn't stop after ten minutes, Dr. Collins suggests, call your dentist, who may want to suture the wound.
Check your bite. Mention repeated cheek or tongue biting to your dentist, who will check the fit of your dentures or the alignment of your teeth. If misaligned teeth are the problem, braces may be in order—even for adults.