Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about chewing

Fears about chewing

5 min read
Kristin Jones, LCSW

By Kristin Jones, LCSW

Nov 16, 2022

Possibly related to:

Sensorimotor/Somatic OCD with a focus on chewing involves concerns about the process of chewing, and often includes a hyperawareness of how one is chewing, or possibly the way one’s jaw moves or the sound of chewing. One may also experience preoccupation with the sound of one’s jaw crunching food or cracking, the sound of saliva moving through one’s mouth, how one’s tongue feels against one’s teeth or on food, how one is swallowing after chewing, concern about the size of the food one is swallowing, or about whether one has chewed sufficiently.  

Someone with this presentation of OCD may also be concerned that there could be something wrong with their jaw or other anatomy of the mouth. Some worry about producing enough saliva to properly moisturize the food for easy swallowing, about whether others may be able to hear them chew. They may fear that if their chewing is audible to others then they may be viewed negatively, or that others may think they chew abnormally or make critical comments. Others become preoccupied with the idea that they may never be able to focus on anything other than their own chewing, and that they will experience hypervigilance and associated anxiety for the rest of their lives. 

These obsessions cause distress and anxiety, and people with chewing OCD will then engage in compulsions in order to reduce anxiety or discomfort or to prevent a feared outcome, like choking or feeling embarrassed. If someone with chewing OCD engages in compulsions that cause them to actually chew abnormally, they may experience digestive problems, which could then trigger fears that they have another medical issue. 
  • Fearing you might have something wrong with you, like TMJ or a neurological disorder
  • Feeling hyperaware of how you are chewing, how many times you chew, if you chew your food enough, or if you could be hurting your jaw, teeth, or mouth in some way 
  • Fear that others may be watching you chew and criticizing or making fun of you
  • Fear that if you continue to chew abnormally, you might develop other problems, such as digestive issues, crooked teeth, chronic pain
  • Fear that you may choke if you don’t chew properly

Common triggers

People with chewing themes in OCD may be triggered by situations involving eating, especially foods that could require more rigorous chewing. Some may find it more difficult to eat with others, to eat out at restaurants, or at social functions where people might be more likely to notice one’s chewing. Some might be triggered by and more likely to notice jaw, mouth, tooth, tongue, or gum pain or discomfort. Other triggers could include commercials about toothpaste, medications associated with digestive issues, or trying new foods.

How can I tell if it’s OCD with a focus on chewing, and not anxiety, cautiousness, or stress?

A sign that you may be experiencing OCD is if you notice you are focusing on your chewing behavior excessively throughout the day, and engaging in compulsive behaviors such as researching chewing disorders, comparing yourself to others, asking for reassurance from others, avoiding certain foods, or avoiding eating with others or in public places. After engaging in compulsive behaviors, you are likely to experience only temporary relief from distress and anxiety, and will likely continue to feel urges to engage in these behaviors in the future.

Common compulsions

When people with chewing themes in OCD experience unwanted thoughts or worries about their chewing, they may start counting how many times they chew their food, look at themselves in the mirror while they chew, ask others about the volume of their chewing, avoid eating certain foods, avoid eating with others, or examine their mouth everytime they chew. They may ruminate on the possibility of abnormal chewing or social awkwardness, research other disorders that involve chewing abnormalities, and review other functions such as saliva output. They may check the size of food when swallowing and chew excessively. Some may start observing how others chew and compare it to their own chewing. 

How to treat fear of chewing OCD

OCD with a focus on chewing can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD, you can recover from OCD. 

You will start by identifying your obsessions, the triggers that cause these obsessions, and the compulsive behaviors you do in an attempt to reduce your anxiety and distress or prevent a feared outcome. As you build awareness of these factors, you will also work with your therapist to create your treatment plan, or hierarchy, which will be a list of exercises called exposures, which are situations or activities designed to trigger your fears and anxiety in a controlled environment. The hierarchy allows you to work your way up your ladder of fears, starting with triggers that cause lower levels of distress, and eventually progressing to more challenging ERP as you build your ERP skills. 

You will practice purposely triggering yourself to evoke various levels of distress, and learn to resist engaging in compulsions in response. This process will allow you to habituate to the distress, or help you tolerate it, which will make it easier in the future to manage the distress whenever you are triggered, and will likely reduce the distress you feel going forward. 

You will retrain your brain and build confidence that you can tolerate uncertainty and anxiety, which will likely result in a decrease in intrusive thoughts and a reduction in hyperawareness related to your chewing.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.