Tongue biting is relatively common and usually happens accidentally. You may bite your tongue:
- while eating
- after dental anesthesia
- during sleep
- due to stress
- during a seizure
- in the course of a traumatic event, such as a bike or car accident or during a fall
- while playing sports
Injuries caused by tongue biting are common and often minor, especially in children. They’re usually more severe in adults.
Healing time for a tongue bite depends on the severity of the injury. Less severe tongue injuries heal on their own within a week. More severe tongue injuries require medical attention, such as stitches and medication. It may take several weeks or months to fully heal.
A tongue bite may bleed. Even small bites may bleed, but these usually don’t require medical treatment.
Seek immediate medical attention if your tongue:
- bleeds excessively
- bleeds for a second time after the original bleeding has stopped
- appears red or swollen
- feels warm
- has red streaks or pus
- is very painful
- is accompanied by a fever
- is visibly deformed
When you bite your tongue, it’s also possible to bite your lips or the inside of your mouth. Treatment for these areas of the mouth is similar to treatment for the tongue.
If the tongue bite is minor, you can treat it at home. Follow these steps to minimize pain and ensure the injury heals properly:
- Wash your hands with soap and water, or wear latex gloves.
- Rinse your mouth with water so you can better see the injury.
- Apply gauze or cloth with pressure to the site of the injury to stop the bleeding.
- Place ice or a cold pack wrapped in a thin cloth to the outside of the lips or mouth if there’s any swelling.
- Call a doctor if bleeding doesn’t stop or if you notice a visible deformity, signs of infection, or new bleeding.
If the injury is severe, be sure to follow a doctor’s instructions in addition to the following home treatment:
- Eat foods that are soft and easy to swallow.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce pain and swelling.
- Apply a cold compress to the injured area for five minutes a few times a day. You can also suck on a piece of ice or fruit-flavored ice pop.
- Rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution after eating to ease pain and keep the wound clean. To make a saltwater solution, mix 1 teaspoon of non-iodized salt in 1 cup of warm water.
Call your doctor for a tongue bite that doesn’t stop bleeding or shows signs of infection, new bleeding, or deformity.
In adults, a good rule of thumb is to get medical attention when the edges of a tongue injury don’t come together when the tongue is still.
Seek immediate medical care for a child if you notice:
- a gaping cut on their tongue, lips, or inside of their mouth
- intense pain that doesn’t improve within two hours of taking over-the-counter pain medication
- difficulty swallowing liquids or spitting
- inability to fully open or close the mouth
- signs of infection and fever
Check all tongue injuries daily for changes in appearance or feel. Wounds in the mouth that are clean and healthy may appear light pink to white.
Contact your doctor right away if you notice any signs of infection, such as:
- pain that’s getting worse instead of better
Call 911 or your local emergency services for any major mouth bleeding that can’t be stopped or if you have trouble breathing. These may be signs of a life-threatening emergency.
If you choose to see your doctor, they’ll first try to stop any bleeding and visually examine the area to determine the right treatment for you.
Most bite injuries on the tongue, lips, and inside of the mouth are called lacerations. These are deep cuts. It’s also possible you had a laceration that was healing but became infected. This also requires treatment.
Depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor might decide you need:
- stitches to close a wound
- antibiotics to treat or prevent infection
- reattachment to connect part of the tongue that was bitten off (very uncommon)
If you’re prescribed antibiotics for a tongue or mouth injury, be sure to take them as directed. Don’t stop a course of antibiotics even if you’re feeling better.
You can expect a small laceration on the tongue, lips, or inside of the mouth to heal in three to four days.
A more severe laceration that required stitching or reattachment may take several weeks to a few months to heal.
Infections of the mouth are rare, but can occur. They usually clear up completely after a few weeks.
Biting tongue in your sleep
If you or your child tends to bite their tongue during sleep, consult a dentist about an oral device to prevent biting.
This device slips easily over the teeth and prevents the tongue from moving around the mouth during sleep. It may also prevent grinding or chewing.
Biting tongue during seizures
Adults and children with epilepsy can bite their tongue during seizures. These bites can be severe.
To prevent tongue biting during seizures, follow your epilepsy treatment plan. Take any prescribed medication consistently and avoid any seizure triggers you and your doctor may have identified.
Biting tongue during athletic activities
It’s common to bite your tongue during certain athletic activities, particularly those that involve sudden or fast movements, hard objects, and physical contact.
Wear a soft mouthguard to help prevent tongue biting during these activities. For some sports like hockey, it’s necessary to wear a helmet or mask, which can also prevent accidental biting.
Biting tongue when eating
You’re more likely to bite your tongue while eating particularly cold or hot foods or if you’re eating very quickly. To prevent this, properly cool or warm foods before eating and take your time.
A tongue bite can be painful, but it’s usually easy to care for and will heal with little care after a few days. Less commonly, a tongue bite may require medical or emergency attention.
Practice general wound-healing best practices to speed the recovery of a tongue, lip, or mouth bite. In the meantime, you can take steps to help prevent future injuries to your tongue and mouth.