Tongue Biting: Causes and Prevention
The causes of tongue biting are not fully understood. However, there are some theories that suggest it may have something to do with the brain’s fear response system.
When faced with danger or stress, the amygdala (a part of the brain) releases chemicals called neurotransmitters into your body. These substances cause changes in your nervous system which result in physical reactions such as sweating, heart rate increases and breathing becoming shallow.
Another theory suggests that tongue biting may occur due to a lack of oxygen to the tongue area. If the blood supply to the tongue area is interrupted, then it will begin bleeding from its mouth and gums.
This bleed may become infected and lead to infection causing inflammation, pain and even death.
It is believed that tongue biting occurs because of a combination of factors. Some experts believe that it could be caused by psychological issues like anxiety, depression, social phobia and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other researchers believe that it may be related to neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy. There are no known cures for tongue biting but there are many things you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place.
The most important thing you can do is learn to manage your stress and anxiety levels. Try meditation, yoga or even exercise if you are able.
If you feel anxious or stressed then try doing breathing exercises to keep calm. If you think tongue biting may be caused by a fear or anxiety response, consider speaking to a psychiatrist or psychologist to help you through your fears.
Practice good dental hygiene by brushing your teeth and flossing daily. This will help to prevent infection and bad breath that may be a trigger for you to bite your tongue.
If you feel a tongue bite coming on, try rinsing your mouth with an antiseptic mouth wash. If you continue to feel like biting your tongue, see your doctor as it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
How to Prevent Tongue Biting
As a general rule you should try your best to prevent tongue biting. Even if you have the best prevention methods, there are still times when you may bite your tongue by accident.
It is important to be able to recognize these triggers and learn how to deal with them in a productive manner. If you feel like biting your tongue, try rinsing your mouth with some mouth wash or water. If you think tongue biting may be triggered by stress, anxiety or boredom, try to engage in a relaxing activity like listening to music, reading a book or taking a bath.
If you think tongue biting may be related to a fear response, consider addressing it with a professional as soon as possible. If you suffer from a physical illness such as an allergic reaction; make sure you are up to date on your shots and are practicing good hygiene.
If you suspect a medical condition is causing this behavior, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
When to See a Doctor
If you feel like you cannot stop biting your tongue, seek help from a medical professional right away. See your doctor if you have any of the following:
1. You feel the need to bite your tongue all the time.
2. You have injured your tongue so many times that it becomes floppy or weak.
3. You have trouble tasting food or feeling texture due to damage to your tongue.
4. You feel that tongue biting is affecting your quality of life in a negative manner and you cannot stop.
5. Tongue biting may be triggered by stress or anxiety and these feelings do not go away.
6. Tongue biting may be triggered by depression and these feelings do not go away.
7. You suffer from a physical illness or disorder such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy and cannot stop tongue biting.
Warnings & Side Effects
If you suffer from depression, it is not recommended that you try to self-medicate with over the counter medication. Many common drugs such as Benadryl can cause over-sedation and drowsiness which may lead to accidental tongue biting.
If you suffer from depression and you find yourself biting your tongue often, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
When to Save or Let Die
There are some instances where a tongue bite is so severe that the person may need immediate medical attention before the tongue tissue dies and falls off. In these cases it is important to get help right away.
Severe tongue bites can lead to permanent damage to the mouth and difficulty eating and speaking.
Some people don’t seek medical attention right away and that’s okay. A lot of the time severe tongue bites can be very painful which may cause someone to neglect their wound resulting in a loss of blood.
This is why it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as you can, because there are some situations where immediate action is needed.
There are many instances where the risk vs reward is weighed and people decide whether or not to seek immediate medical attention or self-treat at home.
For example, a paper cut is not life threatening and can easily become infected if left untreated. In this case, most people would choose to treat the wound right away to avoid future problems.
On the other hand, some people may have a minor bite or scratch that is so far from being life threatening that it can be treated later. In this case depending on the severity of the wound, some people would choose to let the wound heal on its own without medical attention.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s body is different. What may not be a big deal to some people can be a life or death situation for others.
If you are the type of person that worries about everything then it might be best to seek immediate medical attention when a tongue bite occurs.
However, if you are an adventurous type who isn’t worried about a little blood, go ahead and try to save some time and money by treating it yourself. Keep in mind that this is only if the wound is not life threatening and you have the supplies to treat the wound at home.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
If you have anything in your medical cabinet at home, most of the supplies you need to treat a tongue bite can be found in there.
Some things you may want to keep in mind when treating a tongue bite are:
1. Pain killers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc)
2. Topical antibiotics (Bactroban)
3. Lidocaine 2.5% (Anesthetic to numb the tongue)
4. Antibacterial wash (Bactine)
5. Isopropyl alcohol (Rubbing alcohol)
If you can’t find these supplies at home, you can pick most of them up at your local drug store or order them online. If you have any major medical issues such as a heart condition, it may be best to seek immediate medical attention instead of self-treating at home.
If you have a minor condition such as acid reflux disease or a mild injury such as a sprain, it should not be a problem to treat yourself at home.
The supplies above are some of the most common over-the-counter treatments used to treat a tongue bite. Most people have these on hand and they can be effective in treating a minor injury such as a bite on the tongue.
If you don’t have any of these supplies on hand, it may be best to seek immediate medical attention instead of self-treating at home.
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
It should go without saying, but if you believe you have sustained a bite from a potentially dangerous animal, it is in your best interest to seek immediate medical attention. If the animal that bit you is still around, it is recommended that you stay calm and immediately leave the area.
If the animal that bit you is no longer around, it may be possible to track it down if you can remain calm enough to do so. Check the immediate area around you for paw prints or other markings such as saliva that may have come from the animal.
If you are able to track down the animal, it may be best to leave it alone and immediately seek help.
If you are unable to track down the animal and no longer have the ability to locate its whereabouts, it may be best to head back to a populated area and seek medical treatment there. If you are unable to move, signal for help if possible by waving a towel or shirt in the air.
If you are unable to move and no one is around to assist you, it may be best to play dead. If the animal that bit you is a predatory type that has attacked before, it may attack again.
If this happens and you have no other choice, playing dead is your best defense.
Call for Help
Once you have sought immediate medical attention or have had the wound treated at home, you should contact your local animal control to report the incident. If possible, it would greatly help the investigation if you can provide any of the following information:
1. Description of the animal (size, color, number of legs)
2. Last time you saw the animal
Sources & references used in this article:
Criteria for diagnosing and treating anterior open bite with stability by A Artese, S Drummond, JM Nascimento… – Dental Press J Orthod, 2011 – core.ac.uk
Prevention and Management of Cheek and/or Tongue Biting Related to Posterior Implant‐Supported Fixed Dental Prostheses (ISFDPs) by KI Afrashtehfar, UC Belser – Journal of Prosthodontics, 2019 – Wiley Online Library
Self-mutilation of tongue and lip in a patient with simple schizophrenia by MC Munerato, SP Moure, V Machado… – Clinical Medicine & …, 2011 – Marshfield Clinic
How to Make a Do-It-Yourself, Disposable Bite Guard Using Easily Available Materials, to Prevent Tongue and Lip Injuries, During Motor Evoked Potential … by GM Sasidharan, B Karre – Cureus, 2019 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov