Body processes

Biting – function, task and diseases


Biting is the forceful closing of the teeth to crush food or, as in the animal kingdom, to defend oneself. This can lead to serious injuries that can be life-threatening. Bite wounds can also become infected quickly and require appropriate treatment to prevent infection .

What is the bite?

In common parlance, the word “bite” is also used as a synonym for crushing food. However, it is most commonly used to describe an attack and injury caused by the teeth of a human or animal. Especially in the animal kingdom, biting is also considered a threatening gesture to drive away potential threats or competitors.

Bite wounds are so-called mechanical wounds caused by the impact of teeth on the skin and flesh. They resemble lacerations or puncture wounds and vary in severity depending on the teeth of the attacker.

By biting, endogenous toxins can also get into the victim’s organism. This is the case, for example, with snakes, which can kill with a targeted bite. But even without poison, wounds caused by bites can be dangerous. Contact between the teeth and the oral mucosa and the open wound can quickly lead to infection. Disinfecting even small bite wounds is therefore very important.

Biting means an interaction of the chewing muscles as well as the muscles in the tongue , cheeks and lips. The teeth are also involved to varying degrees as they crush, crush and grind the food in the oral cavity. If diseases occur that damage the jawbone, muscles or teeth or impair their function, biting and chewing become significantly more difficult. In the worst case, you may stop eating.

Function & task

Biting performs important functions. With the help of the teeth, food can be divided into smaller portions and then crushed. In early phases of human history, this was the only way to eat food, since tools for chopping were still missing. Those who could not bite or bite off had to starve. Today, people can use a knife, fork, or even a blender and don’t have to rely so much on the power of their teeth. In addition, we can now have artificial teeth made if necessary.The biting process begins with the tongue positioning the food or object to be chewed between the teeth. Crushing takes place by repeatedly opening and closing the jaw . When opening, the floor of the mouth muscles in particular come into action, when closing, the musculus temporalis. The back rows of teeth, such as the molars and wisdom teeth , are used to grind food. Biting and crushing, on the other hand, is done by the incisors. If there are large gaps in the teeth, the person has to use more force to bite and chew than a person with a full set of teeth.

In contrast to animals, humans only bite in emergency situations when they do not know how to defend themselves in any other way. Such behavior no longer has a place in human interaction, and biting is restricted to eating. The jaw muscles play a special role in this. This is where the strongest muscles in the human body are located. The human bite force is about 80 kg (in comparison, a lion has a bite force of 560 kg) or 30 Newtons. Theoretically even higher values ​​would be possible; however, clenching the upper and lower jaws too hard causes toothache and muscle tension that prevents a greater biting force from being exerted.

In the animal kingdom, mutual biting is still part of everyday life. It is used to defend yourself, fend off opponents, or hunt down prey. Humans, on the other hand, only bite in emergency situations if they don’t know how to defend themselves in any other way. It is common for young children under the age of two to bite each other and their parents. This is considered normal behavior in this age group as they are just discovering their bodies and are unaware that biting can also cause pain. But from kindergarten age, biting people should be a thing of the past. Such behavior no longer has a place in human interaction, and biting is restricted to eating.

Diseases & Ailments

The biting process itself can also be impaired by diseases or injuries. Damage to the teeth that makes biting difficult or impossible occurs particularly frequently in this context. Dental treatment is required to restore the broken teeth.If this is not possible due to severe damage, an appropriate denture can be made and used. This usually completely restores the biting and chewing function. If the muscles in the jaw area are diseased or injured, the important movements when biting can be made more difficult or stopped completely. This is the case, for example, with paralysis of the muscles in the floor of the mouth.

If the jaw muscles tense up in a painful way, irritated facial nerves can be responsible. Unconscious grinding of teeth at night can also cause noticeable hardening of the masticatory muscles, as well as rubbing off or even breaking off the teeth. Earaches and headaches are also side effects of the grinding noise that is often caused by stress .

When humans or animals bite, they injure their opponent’s skin and tissues with their teeth. This leads to a bite wound, which can vary greatly depending on the attacker’s size and tooth profile. Most bites treated in doctor’s offices and hospitals are from dogs and cats. Dog bites are often quite extensive and often show bruises and torn wound edges. Cat bites are much smaller and more punctiform, but they are deeper than comparable dog bites. This makes cat bites potentially more dangerous due to the nature of the teeth, as they allow more germs to enter the wound.

But the most dangerous are human bites. Although these are not very common, they carry a high risk of infection. Up to a hundred billion different germs and bacteria can be found in just one milliliter of human saliva . Biting can also transmit serious diseases such as hepatitis or HIV .

If an injury occurs due to a bite, the wound should always be disinfected. In the case of very small bite wounds, this can be done at home and, with appropriate observation, medical treatment is not always necessary in these cases. Larger injuries, on the other hand, should always be presented to a doctor. It may be necessary for the wound to be sewn up after cleaning and then bandaged in a sterile manner. A sterile bandage is also advisable for self-treated bites. This prevents additional germs from penetrating the injury and causing infections. After a period of six hours, even large bite wounds are no longer sewn for this reason, as the risk of infection would be too great.

After the cleaning, a wound drainage can also be placed, which transports wound water away. A so-called interactive wound dressing can also absorb wound secretions and also prevents drying out. This can speed up healing .

In addition to a high risk of infection, animal bites also harbor the risk of contracting rabies or developing tetanus ( lockjaw ). There is now a vaccination against rabies that can also be given after the bite. A tetanus vaccination should be carried out approximately every ten years in order to have active vaccination protection at all times.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.