Do you keep biting your tongue but can’t figure out why? It happens so quickly that it makes you wonder how in the world you didn’t see this coming. Is there anything you can do to stop your tongue from getting in the way of your teeth? Well, it’s time to get some answers.
Tongue biting is a common problem that happens accidentally and, yes, it hurts. Ouch! The sudden, sharp pain you feel is the result of your teeth sinking into the soft sensitive tissue of your tongue. The level of pain and the amount of bleeding will depend on the severity of the injury. A small cut or wound normally bleeds a little and heal on its own, usually within a week. However, there are instances when you may need medical treatment.
While tongue biting can occur in various situations, scientific researchers say the underlying cause is a short circuit in the brain. As you continue reading, you’ll learn what role the brain plays in tongue biting, how to treat tongue bites at home, when to seek medical attention, and how to avoid biting your tongue.
Why Do You Bite Your Tongue?
People bite their tongue while chewing vigorously, talking, biting their nails, playing sports, during sleep, a fall, or a car accident, when under severe stress, or after receiving dental anesthesia. However, it seems as if most people end up accidentally sinking their teeth into their tongue while chewing, including unconscious chewing. And there is a good explanation for this.
The teeth, tongue, and jaw are all part of a structure called the mouth or buccal cavity. They work together in a systematic way to allow you to bite, chew, and speak. However, there are times when the smooth operation is disrupted leading to a tongue bite.
Some Duke University researchers decided to conduct a sophisticated tracing technique in mice to understand how human brains coordinate movements of the muscles in the jaws and tongue while chewing. They explained that there is a set of premotor neurons that help the jaws to open and the tongue to stick out (protrude).
There is also another set of motoneurons that help to close the jaw and pull back (retract) the tongue. Sometimes, these interconnected neurons miscommunicate and cause you to close your jaws before your tongue gets a chance to completely move out of the way. The result is a nasty tongue bite.
Other Causes or Risk Factors of Tongue Biting
Children are more likely to bite their tongue because they are more active than adults. But while it’s normal to accidentally chew on your tongue every now and again, frequent tongue-biting is usually linked to underlying problems such as tongue thrusting caused by misaligned jaw and teeth.
- Teeth misalignment: The teeth will not function properly if they are misaligned and can lead to tongue bites when speaking or chewing. Examples of misalignment are overbites, crossbites, underbites, open bites, and crowded teeth. According to Healthline, the lower row of teeth needs to be in alignment to protect the tongue from being bitten.
Dysfunction that causes facial or jaw muscle spasms also increases the risk of tongue bites. For example, people can end up biting their tongue when sleeping or during a seizure. Nightime tongue-biting is relatively common and may stem from something more serious such as:
- Sleep bruxism: Also known as teeth grinding, bruxism is a condition that makes you grind and clench your teeth unconsciously or involuntarily. The most common causes are stress, anxiety, and sleep apnea. Bruxism can also occur while you are awake (awake bruxism).
- Nighttime seizures (epilepsy): Seizures cause the facial muscles to tighten and twist violently. This makes the person experiencing the seizure to involuntarily bite their tongue. A caregiver sometimes inserts an object, such as a spoon, into the person’s mouth to prevent them from biting their tongue. However, doctors warn against this practice as the object can result in serious injury to the person’s teeth or gum, or even choking.
- Rhythmic movement disorder: The disorder is common in children but also affects adults. It is characterized by sudden movements during sleep such as neck or head jerks. The jerking movements may result in tongue bites.
What Can You Use At Home To Treat Your Tongue Bites?
Tongue injuries caused by biting down are rarely serious and can be treated at home. The following is a guide to control the bleeding, reduce swelling, and help heal the wound:
- Rinse your mouth with room temperature water. Rinsing will allow you to see the location of the wound and determine how severe it is.
- Using a clean clean cloth or sterile gauze, press down on the wound for about five minutes.
- If needed, wrap crushed ice in the cloth to help control swelling. (Avoid putting ice directly on the tongue).
- You may rinse your mouth with warm salt water 2 to 3 times a day to relieve pain and prevent infection. Make the salt solution using 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- If your child is the one with a bit tongue, remember to wear gloves before caring for the injury. Doing so can help prevent infections.
Serious Tongue Bites
Tongue bites resulting from a car accident or sports injury are usually more serious and may bleed excessively. In such cases, home care may not be enough. A tongue bite is considered serious if the cut, wound, or scrape is longer than 2 centimeters or the bleeding continues after 15 minutes of applying pressure. You should consider getting medical help in these cases.
You may need stitches and medication if the injury is severe. It may also take several weeks or months for it to fully heal. Here are some other instances where you should seek immediate medical attention:
- The pain prolongs or is severe
- The bleeding is excessive
- You develop a fever (a sign of infection)
- The tongue appears red or swollen or feels warm
- You notice red streaks or pus on your tongue
- Your tongue appears visibly deformed or a piece is missing
When Should You See A Dentist Or Doctor For Biting Your Tongue?
You already know why it’s important to seek medical attention for serious tongue bites. You should also consider seeing your dentist or doctor in the following circumstances:
- Frequent tongue bites: Frequently chomping down on your tongue can leave it with painful sores or ulcers. Your tongue may also appear scalloped on the surface or around the sides.
- Sleep disorders: Your doctor can prescribe treatments to prevent tongue biting related to problems such as sleep movement disorders, stress, or sleep apnea.
- Teeth grinding: See your dentist if you habitually grind your teeth during the day or night. Your dentist may recommend an oral device, such as a night guard, to keep the teeth away from your tongue during sleep. To get you a perfect fit, your dentist will take impressions of your teeth and create a mold. The mold is then sent to a dental lab to make a customized mouth guard matching your teeth and bite.
- Teeth misalignment: If your dentist determines that your teeth or jaws are misaligned, he or she may recommend braces to correct the misalignment. This helps to reduce problems such as tongue thrusting and biting.
- Seizures: If your nighttime tongue biting is the result of seizures, your doctor may provide medications to reduce the frequency and severity of your seizures. The more effective the treatment, the less the risk of biting your tongue.
How To Prevent Biting Your Tongue
You may not be able to prevent tongue biting that occurs accidentally due to a mix up in brain signals. However, here are some steps you can take to avoid injury while eating and during sleep:
- Chew slowly: You are more likely to bite your tongue if you chomp down your food in a hurry or while eating hot or cold foods. Allow your food to cool or warm cold foods before eating and eat in small bites. You should also avoid chewing vigorously and talking while chewing.
- Avoid hard foods: Biting down on hard foods such as ice and candies can make you more prone to injuring your tongue. This is because hards foods interfere with the brain’s sensory and coordinating functions when biting and chewing.
- Wear a mouth guard: Invest in a mouth guard to protect against injury, especially if you’re involved in sports. Athletes who play contact sports are more likely to injure their teeth, tongue, or gum if they are not wearing a mouth guard.
- Reduce stress: Stress is a major cause of tongue biting related to nighttime bruxism. By managing stress during the day, you may be able to reduce the risk of grinding your teeth and biting your tongue.
Biting the tongue seems to be a normal life event for both children and adults. Yes, it is painful! However, the injury is minor in most cases and can be treated at home. Just remember to monitor the wound for excessive bleeding and symptoms of infection.
Other than that, the best thing you can probably do is to be mindful of bad habits such as talking while chewing, nail-biting, chewing on hard foods, and grinding your teeth. Lastly, remember to wear your mouth guard and take your medication for underlying problems such as seizures and sleep apnea.