I'm Going to Look Like a Really Mean Old Lady If I Don't Stop Stress-Chewing the Inside of My Cheeks

I like the fine lines that come from things like smiling, not the ones that comes from gross habits.
Publish date:
April 7, 2016
habits, wrinkles, fine lines, Morsicatio Buccarum, Chronic Cheek Chewing

When I turned 25, I became all about breaking bad habits: I kept a clean house for the first time in my life, stopped biting my nails, and rage-cutting my hair.

But I had a few habits that I could. Not. Shake.

Have you ever had a habit you knew was bad, but you kept doing anyways? Whelp, I'm going to keep drinking energy drinks instead of water until someone on the TV tells me not to!

I felt that way about posture for a while. Posture is a key factor in overall health. If you don't sit correctly,you'll rearrange your soft tissue and get a hunchback. I know this. I'm going to do better next time. Then as soon as I'm out of the chiropractor's office, I slurp back into Prawn Pose.

A few months into having a desk job, I noticed grooves in my neck, just out of nowhere. Then I realized they were from looking down at a computer screen, with my chin almost on my chest. YIKES. It's an easy fix: I just propped some books under the monitor to lift it up, and I'm not growing wrinkles while I'm working.

We age, our skin gets baggy — it's part of nature. I like the crinkles at the corners of my eyes. They make me look wise, and like I've gazed thoughtfully at lots of things, for a long time, without sunscreen. Smile lines, too; they make a person just look good, like they enjoy the simple things like toast and tea, and a newspaper. That kind of good.

But then stress happens. And it makes me do this gross thing. When I'm deep in thought working, or driving — really any spare moment.

Two words: (though it's Latin, so it sounds like more): Morsicatio buccarum.

It's not a magic spell or a Capulet — it's the habitual nibbling, biting and chewing of the insides of the cheek, aka the buccal mucosa.

You might do it out of stress, boredom, or perhaps even anxiety. Just like in the old adage, "Keep making that face and it'll stay that way," repetitive motion can cause wrinkles over time. Plus, chronic cheek chewing (CCC) puts you at increased risk of oral infections and weakened immune system.

When I'm an old lady, I don't want to look like a sour old lady — I want young people to approach me and ask me about what it was like living before the internet. That's just one of the handful of important goals I have, and I don't want to drive away curious, nostalgic young adults, with my gnarled face, frozen in a scowl.

Chewing at the insides of your cheeks is satisfying and seemingly harmless — I get it, more than you know. You're just getting that one little dead piece off because it's gross! It seems fine because you can't really see it (lies — the scarring and swelling from the trauma can make your cheeks puff out a bit). But all that scar tissue you're creating is food for the bacteria that live in your mouth. Open sores inside the mouth can tax the immune system with persistent low-grade infections, as well as a gateway for pathogens. CCC can cause TMJ, and constant trauma to the area can even mask symptoms of oral cancers or serious infections. So SUPER worth it.

Stop. Just stop it. Screwing your mouth up and eating your face from the inside out gives you wrinkles AND can make you sick. Why the hell is anyone still doing this?

I'm a recovering CCCer, and while I've tried the rubber-band trick — where you snap your wrist with a rubber band when you want to indulge — but it seemed a bit too medieval.

Instead, I tried to look at the cause. Stress and anxiety are generally the culprits — I generally start fidgeting when I'm worried about something or running late. One thing I've started doing is trying to eliminate stress points, either by giving myself enough time to do things, instead of expecting perfect expediency, or planning in chill activities, like walks or yard work into days that I know are going to be hectic. Stretching and meditating also alleviates my stress levels, but it's not always in the cards, so if I miss it one night, I try to catch up in the morning instead.

A backup plan is to ask a partner, friend or roommate to throw nachos at you or just shout "What the hell are you doing?!" with absolutely no inflection every time you start feasting upon your mouth. Supposedly, 10% of the population does this, so you're not alone.

Do you have any good tricks to unlearn a habit?