Tongue wounds do not usually require stitching, but this can help large or wide wounds heal.
To help a wound heal, a healthcare professional may use a piece of surgical thread, called suture, to stitch two edges of the wound together.
Tongue lacerations from sports injuries and falls are common, particularly in children.
If these wounds are minor or do not involve the tip of the tongue, they often do not need stitches. This is because the many nerves and blood vessels in the tongue help ensure that it heals quickly without infection.
In this article, we describe when a tongue wound might need stitches. We also explore healing times and aftercare strategies.
Healthcare professionals use suture, or surgical thread, to stitch together large open wounds. There are two common types of suture: nonabsorbable and absorbable.
They usually use nonabsorbable suture for superficial cuts or minor wounds and absorbable suture for deep wounds.
The American College of Surgeons report that doctors typically use absorbable suture for stitches in the mouth.
Absorbable suture usually dissolves within a few weeks or months, depending on the specific kind of material and the severity of the injury. A healthcare professional needs to remove nonabsorbable suture.
Cuts or wounds on the tongue tend to need stitches when they are more than 2 centimeters long.
A person may need these stitches if they:
- severely bite their tongue
- grind their teeth
- catch their tongue on a dental device or sports equipment
- have a minor injury on the tip or sides of the tongue
- have an injury due to a fall, sudden impact, or seizure
- have oral surgery, such as a procedure to remove a growth in the mouth
- have an infection from a piercing
- have any health issue that causes an open wound on the tongue
- experience physical abuse
- injure their tongue due to self-harm
Contact a healthcare professional if any of these issues develop:
- wounds reopening or becoming wider, larger, or deeper
- pain that does not improve with time or over-the-counter medication
- swelling or redness around the wound
- pus or a foul smell coming from the wound
- tissues around the wound turning yellow, white, or black
- increasing or unstoppable bleeding
- fever or shaking and chills
- a headache and dizziness or faintness
- unexplained confusion and exhaustion
- a sore throat
- a rash or hives
- severe itching
- shortness of breath
- swelling of the throat or mouth
Taking the following steps may be enough to heal minor tongue wounds:
- Wash the hands thoroughly before touching the wound.
- If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure directly until the bleeding stops.
- Next, examine the cut for debris and other foreign objects and gently remove them.
- Clean the wound gently with clean water or a saline solution.
- Brush the teeth frequently to keep the area around the tongue clean.
If the wound is open, such as one from a bite or puncture, it is especially important to keep it as clean as possible until it heals.
Be sure to avoid exposing any wound to unclean or natural water sources.
A doctor or nurse will explain how to care for a tongue wound that has stitches.
They may recommend:
Wounds in the mouth tend to heal
- size of the wound
- severity of the wound
- person’s age
- person’s overall health
In healthy adults, minor injuries tend to heal within 2 weeks. It can take 4–8 weeks for absorbable suture to dissolve.
Children may heal even more quickly. A 2018 study found that it takes around 13 days for tongue wounds with stitches to heal in children.
The strategies below may help support healing:
- getting enough physical activity
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- quitting smoking
- staying hydrated
- getting enough sleep
- avoiding any foods or devices that might damage the stitches
Some medical conditions and other factors may influence the healing time, including:
Tongue wounds are often unpreventable. However, there may be some ways to reduce the risk, such as:
- avoiding running the tongue over dental devices or oral sports equipment
- wearing properly fitting dental devices and protective mouthpieces, helmets, and face masks during contact sports
- chewing slowly
- wearing a mouth guard to prevent teeth grinding
- wearing a seatbelt
- keeping children in car seats until they are the correct age and height for regular seatbelts
- avoiding chewing gum and candy
- managing conditions that can cause seizures, such as epilepsy
Doctors use stitches for large or deep wounds. They typically use absorbable suture, which takes 1–2 months to dissolve. This is generally the estimated healing time for these wounds.
If symptoms of infection or limited healing occur, such as a fever, discoloration, or a foul smell or discharge coming from the wound, contact a doctor.