The tongue is an essential muscle for key human functions, such as breathing, eating, and speaking. It is quite common for a person to bite their tongue by accident. Fortunately, in most cases, it is not a cause for concern.
Biting the tongue may seem minor, but it can be painful and problematic, especially if it happens when chewing.
If someone bites their tongue during an accident or while playing sports, it can seem very scary, because tongues can bleed a lot.
It is a very complicated part of the human body, with at least 8,000 motor units, which help move this single muscle. This might explain why the tongue is so flexible and can hurt so much when injured.
Keep reading to find out the healing time, treatment, and prevention for a bit tongue.
The causes of a bit tongue may include:
- car accidents
- sports injuries
- body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) patterns, such as nail-biting
- spasms in sleep
- vigorous, unconscious chewing
Because children tend to be more active than adults, they are more likely to bite their tongues.
Typically, when people bite their tongues, they are aware of how they did it, and the injury heals on its own.
When people injure their tongues and seek medical treatment, a doctor will examine the size and shape of the wound, as well as the condition of the tongue, to decide if stitches are necessary.
Very often, home treatment is all that a person needs to manage a bit tongue. The following steps can serve as a guideline:
- Ask individuals to rinse out their mouths with water first. This makes it easier to see the site of the injury and remove any blood or debris.
- If it is necessary to put hands in the injured person’s mouth, wear medical gloves.
- Look for pieces of teeth or other objects that could be in the mouth.
- If the tongue is swelling, try using ice cubes wrapped in cloth or ice pops to reduce it. Avoid putting ice or ice water directly on the tongue.
- If the tongue is bleeding, try to stop it by applying pressure with a sterile gauze pad or piece of clean cloth.
- If the bleeding continues after 15 minutes of applying pressure, consider seeking medical help.
It is essential to keep the wound clean, so be sure to rinse the mouth after every meal, using a solution made from 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Sometimes, a doctor will have difficulty determining whether a tongue bite is severe enough to require stitches, particularly when children are involved. One study only recommended stitches for tongue wounds that are bigger than 2 centimeters (cm) long, unless they affect the tip of the tongue.
It is not always possible to prevent tongue biting. However, the following safety tips can make it less likely for a person to bite their tongue accidentally:
- Try to limit any kind of injury in a car by ensuring that all adults are wearing seat belts, and all children are in appropriate car seats.
- Make sure all players wear a helmet, face mask, and or mouth guard while engaging in any sports or activities where head and mouth injuries are possible.
- Take all steps necessary to “baby-proof” a household and protect young children from falls and other accidents.
- Encourage people, especially young children, to be mindful when they are eating and chewing.
Individuals with conditions that may cause seizures should work with their healthcare teams to make sure they and their loved ones know what to do to protect their tongues during a seizure.
If sleep apnea or teeth grinding are causing tongue biting, working with sleep specialists or dentists can help people find practices to manage these issues.
Most of the time, a bit tongue heals on its own in a few days. Complications tend to arise only with more severe injuries. They require prompt medical treatment and may include:
- disfigured tongue
- impaired functioning for the tongue
- blocked airway
The time it takes a bit tongue to heal depends on the severity of the injury. Most heal quickly, within a few days or a week, but if a person needs stitches or a doctor has re-attached a piece of the tongue, the recovery will take longer.
It is advisable to eat soft foods while recovering from a bit tongue, such as:
- smooth peanut butter
- cottage cheese
- ice cream
- well-cooked or canned fruits and vegetables
Experts advise avoiding the following foods and practices, which can irritate the damaged tissue, causing pain and slowing healing:
- citrus fruits and juices
- tomatoes and tomato juice
- very salty or spicy foods
- using tobacco
- drinking alcohol
Use over-the-counter medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Signs that a bit tongue needs medical treatment may include:
- serious bleeding that does not stop
- the individual seems to have trouble breathing
- a weak or fast pulse
- shallow breathing
- skin turning pale and clammy
- signs of infection
If there is extensive bleeding, seek medical help right away. The individual may have bitten through their tongue and may have severed it.
If someone bites off part of their tongue, a surgeon might be able to re-attach the severed part of the tongue. Should this happen, be sure to collect the severed piece of the tongue, wrap it in a clean cloth, and keep it on ice until reaching the Emergency Room.
When people bite their tongues, they usually recover without medical treatment in a few days.
More serious, deeper bites can take longer and run a greater risk of complication.
Most of the time, a bit tongue is a painful but short-lived injury, commonly due to sports-related and other accidents.
It is not usually necessary to see a doctor for a bit tongue, but if the bleeding is severe and a person suspects more damage, seek medical help.
Even if a person bites a piece of their tongue off, it is possible to re-attach it, with positive results.