Nighttime tongue biting is a common condition that has a variety of causes, including rare ones. Many people do not even realize they bite their tongues until they notice tongue injuries, a swollen tongue, and other issues.
What causes nighttime tongue biting, and what can you do to fix it?
Causes of Biting Tongue in Sleep
Tongue biting happens to everyone at some point, but doing so repeatedly in your sleep can be frustrating and painful. There are numerous reasons why you may be biting your tongue while you sleep.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a common problem. Up to 15% of adults experience sleep bruxism. Most often, teeth grinding affects your jaw muscles and teeth, leading to soreness, jaw pain, injuries, and discomfort. Sleep bruxism can also affect your cheeks and tongue.
In severe instances, it can cause damage to your upper and lower teeth, potentially leading to broken teeth.
Although the cause of bruxism is not clear, it might involve sleep-related chewing activities. Some medications can worsen teeth grinding, as can stress and other disorders.
Facial Muscle Spasms
Another potential cause of sleep-related tongue biting might be facial muscle spasms. Facial spasms are common in children and can cause the chin to tremble while sleeping.
Sleep-related facio-mandibular myoclonus (facial muscle spasms) is a rare condition that makes it difficult for the sufferer to control their jaw and facial muscles, leading to tongue biting and cheek biting.
For many years, the medical community considered these muscle spasms as related to epileptic seizures, but they are more closely related to bruxism.
Lyme disease is an illness that bacteria cause. It attacks the central nervous system, resulting in your body sending incorrect nerve signals through your system. It also damages bodily reflexes. Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Vision changes
- Slurred speech
- Abnormal sensitivity to heat and cold
The problems that Lyme disease can create in your central nervous system can lead you to bite your tongue while you sleep.
If you are one of the 50 million people in the world with epilepsy, you may experience nighttime seizures. During epileptic seizures, you do not have control over your body, and that can cause you to bite your tongue. Treatment for epilepsy can help prevent nocturnal seizures.
Using certain illicit drugs, like MDMA (known as Molly or Ecstasy), can also lead to biting your tongue as you sleep. MDMA is a psychoactive and synthetic stimulant that can make anxiety worse, potentially leading to bruxism. That, in turn, can cause tongue chewing at night.
Some medications can lead to nighttime tongue biting, especially antidepressants. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can increase your chances of developing bruxism, and that makes it more likely that you'll experience tongue biting at night.
Rhythmic Movement Disorder
Rhythmic movement disorder is a condition in which your body repeats movements over and over again. It is most common in children, though adults can suffer from it as well.
Rhythmic movement disorder can cause:
- Head banging
The movements are involuntary and they occur when the person is asleep or drowsy. They can last as long as 15 minutes. In severe cases, sleep rhythmic movement disorder can lead to head, mouth, and eye injuries.
Although sleep apnea does not cause tongue biting, a large percentage of people with sleep apnea have this problem at night, which points to a connection.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes lapses in breathing, leading to oxygen deprivation. Some of the signs of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Gasping for air during sleep
People whose tongues are larger than normal or whose muscles relax in an abnormal manner during sleep can develop sleep apnea. Having relaxed muscles and a large tongue can cause tongue biting.
Having misaligned teeth or a misaligned bite can also make it easier for you to bite your tongue or the inside of your cheeks as you sleep. To resolve this, dental work may be necessary.
Nocturnal Tongue Biting Symptoms
Because you can unconsciously bite your tongue as you sleep, it can be tough to tell if you have this problem. There are some symptoms that can appear if you constantly bite your tongue, however.
These symptoms are:
- Tongue pain
- Tongue ulcer
- Tongue bleeding, redness
- Raw, scalloped edges on the tongue
You may also have marks or scars along the side of your tongue, making everything from eating to speaking painful.
Dangers of Nocturnal Tongue Biting
Biting your tongue in your sleep is more than just a frustrating habit. It can also be dangerous.
Having a healthy tongue is important to your oral health. Cuts and marks can allow bacteria to grow, potentially leading to gum disease and further damage to soft tissues in your mouth.
Biting your tongue in your sleep can also lead to tongue ulcers. Tongue ulcers are usually oval in shape and can be white in color. They can be very painful and make eating or drinking difficult.
Another issue that tongue biting can cause is tongue scalloping. This is the response to inflammation or trauma, and it can make your tongue feel uncomfortable or strange in your mouth.
In some instances, the soft lining in your mouth closest to the scalloped edges might experience friction and can develop sores or irritation.
Preventing Tongue Biting
If you bite your tongue unconsciously as you sleep, there are treatment options that can treat the problem and help you stop biting your tongue.
It is crucial to understand what the underlying cause of this condition is so that you can find the right treatment.
If the problem is teeth grinding, one of the options is to wear a mouth guard, or night guard. Mouth guards can prevent teeth clenching and teeth grinding, protecting both your teeth and your tongue.
Because everyone's mouth is unique, it is essential to reach out to a dental office to get a customized mouth guard that offers the exact fit you need.
Stress can also cause teeth grinding. Finding ways of reducing stress levels during the day can help prevent this along with tongue biting. Deep breathing techniques, yoga, and other options are all good exercises to try.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea has several treatment options, including the use of a CPAP machine. This machine delivers a stream of oxygenated and pressurized air into your airways using a mask and a tube.
Other treatment options for sleep apnea include weight loss, quitting smoking, and surgery.
Resolving Issues With Medications
If medications or illicit drugs are the reasons tongue bites occur, stopping their use is usually enough to end the biting. Always consult with your doctor about stopping medications.
For those who have nocturnal seizures because of a seizure disorder, the treatment usually involves anti-seizure medication. This type of medication can also help if you experience muscle spasms in your face and jaw.
Treating Rhythmic Movement Disorder
If your child has rhythmic movement disorder, they will likely grow out of it. If an adult has that condition or if the child has hurt themselves, it can be important to seek treatment to avoid further injuries.
Treating Lyme Disease
If Lyme disease is the cause of the tongue biting, your medical doctor can offer treatment plans. These may involve antibiotics and other supportive therapies. Lyme disease is a complex condition that can require extensive therapeutic assistance.
Treating a Misaligned Bite
By turning to a dental professional or a dental lab, you can get the help you need to treat a misaligned bite that may be causing you to bite your tongue.
It can become more complex to treat tongue biting if you are not sure what the cause is. In that case, it can be a good idea to participate in a sleep study. A sleep study usually involves you spending a night or two at a special facility where professionals study your sleep by attaching external electrodes and monitors to you.
A sleep study will record your eye movements, muscle tone, muscle tension, heart rhythm, brainwave activity, and breathing rate, allowing doctors to identify where the problem is and how to help you stop biting your tongue. You can reach out to an expert in sleep disorders to arrange for this type of study.
Tongue Biting Frequently Asked Questions
Find the answers to frequently asked questions about tongue biting.
How Serious Is Tongue Biting?
The human jaw is powerful, and accidentally biting your tongue can cause damage. It can also be difficult to see how much damage a bite has created because even a small injury can cause a lot of bleeding.
If you have a severe injury to your tongue, it is crucial to get medical attention. The American Dental Association recommends seeking treatment within eight hours of the injury to prevent permanent damage.
How Long Does It Take for the Tongue to Heal?
How long it takes for your tongue to heal can depend on the degree of injury or damage. It can take several days or even weeks for your tongue to heal completely, especially if you have bitten your tongue raw. It is important to know that if the injury is severe, not getting proper medical attention can lead to oral infections.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you accidentally bite your tongue once or twice, there's likely no need to turn to a doctor. If there's a lot of blood, however, or if the pain is severe, then medical attention is necessary. You also want to watch for inflammation and serious swelling, pus at the bite site, and fever. Any of those signs can warn you that it's time to reach out to professionals.
What Should I Do After Biting My Tongue?
If you bit your tongue and caused a laceration, you should first rinse your mouth with water to clear blood and debris from the area. To reduce swelling, apply cloth-wrapped ice cubes or place a cold compress near the site but not directly on the injury.
If there is blood, apply pressure with a piece of gauze or sterile cloth. If the bleeding continues or restarts, you may have to get medical attention.
Why Is Biting My Tongue So Painful?
The tongue is a very sensitive muscle that contains about 8,000 motor units. These units allow it to move, providing it with flexibility and precision. The tongue also contains muscle fibers and nerves, as well as bumps called papillae.
Beneath the papillae are your taste buds, which connect directly to your brain stem's nerves, making them highly sensitive to temperature, taste, texture, and pain.
There are many reasons you may bite your tongue as you sleep. The most common causes are teeth clenching, sleep rhythmic movement disorder, muscle spasms, sleep apnea, Lyme disease, and seizures.
One of the most effective ways to prevent tongue biting is to use a mouth guard. To improve your tongue's health, you can also rely on Snow's Tongue Cleanser to remove dried skin and bacteria.
If you want to keep your mouth healthy and your teeth looking great, turn to Snow to learn more about oral health and oral aesthetic products.