Biting your lip from time to time isn’t a problem. However, in some cases, people are unable to control the habit, and it becomes what’s known as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB).
While not specifically referred in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), chronic lip biting falls under “other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorders,” specifically under BFRB.
A BFRB is different from someone who just occasionally exhibits a behavior, such as lip biting. For people with BFRBs, the behavior causes the person distress or interferes with their ability to function.
Severity can vary greatly. BFRBs aren’t considered a form of self-mutilation, like cutting. Even though some BFRBs result in bodily harm, people with BFRBs aren’t intentionally harming themselves.
What causes lip biting?
Stress and anxiety are typically related to lip biting. But there’s also some evidence that people may have a biological predisposition to BFRBs such as lip biting. Other factors that may be related to developing a BFRB include:
- Age. Most BFRBs develop between the ages of 11 to 15.
- Sex. Women are more likely to develop BFRBs than men.
Temperament and environment can also play a role in developing BFRBs.
According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, research indicates that most BFRBs aren’t related to trauma or other unresolved psychological issues.
In some cases, chronic lip biting is accidental and the result of a dental condition. These include:
A malocclusion refers to a condition in which your bite is misaligned. This could make you more likely to bite your lip.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
TMJ disorder is a group of conditions that result in pain and dysfunction in the TMJ. This is the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. It can also cause people to accidentally bite their lip.
BFRBs refer to a group of related disorders in which people repeatedly touch their hair or body in a physically damaging way. Research from the TLC Foundation suggests that 3 percent or more of the population suffers from a BFRB. However, many cases are undiagnosed. Other BFRBs include:
- trichotillomania, the uncontrollable pulling of hair
- excoriation disorder, the compulsive picking of skin
- onychophagia, chronic nail biting
- chronic tongue chewing
- trichophagia, the compulsive eating of hair
Diagnosing the underlying cause
If your lip biting feels accidental, see a dentist. They can evaluate whether you might have a dental condition that’s causing you to bite your lip.
If your lip biting is something you’re doing to relieve stress or gain some sense of pleasure that feels out of your control, seek out a mental health counselor. They’ll review your symptoms and your psychiatric and medical history to determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment for lip biting
Many people are unaware they’re biting their lip when they’re doing it. Becoming conscious of the behavior is often the first step. This can be achieved by training yourself to note the feelings that lead up to lip biting, or recording the behavior and circumstances at the time through journaling.
Other treatment options for habitual lip biting may include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- relaxation techniques
- prescription sedatives
- prosthetic shields or soft mouth guards
- replacement behaviors, such as chewing gum instead
If lip biting is caused by dental issues, then treatment may include:
- removal of teeth
- wires or plates to stabilize the jaw bone
- jaw exercises
Complications of lip biting
When lip biting is persistent, it can lead to complications in some cases. These include:
- painful sores
- psychological stress, such as feelings of guilt and hopelessness
How to prevent lip biting
Managing stress through exercise, breathing exercises, and other healthy lifestyle choices may help prevent BFRBs in some cases. Practicing mindfulness when it comes to any behavior that starts to feel repetitive and redirecting the behavior may also help.
It’s also important to note that BFRBs can reoccur. Remain alert to symptoms even after you’ve been successfully treated for a BFRB. Typically, previously effective strategies can be employed again. In some cases, new treatment methods will need to be explored.
What’s the outlook?
If you bite your lip from time to time, it’s probably nothing to be worried about. However, there are instances of lip biting that can be harmful to your health and well-being. If you find that your lip biting is uncontrollable and you can’t stop it yourself, seek professional treatment. There are a variety of options to help you stop and live a full and healthy life.