Tongue Biting Causes: at Night, In Babies & Stopping It

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Why do I keep biting my tongue or what causes this problem while I am asleep, eating, talking or in babies? Get insight into the possible causes, treatments, and ways to heal such bites.

Tongue biting or chewing is a common problem that affects many people. To some, it happens while they are eating, taking or awake while to others, it happens at night while they are sleeping. The commonplace where it is bitten is on its side and/or on its tip.

Although this problem often starts when one is an infant, it might begin at teenagers or adults depending on what causes it.

If you searched online, you will find so many people talking about cheek biting which has existed as long as they have lived.

We have listed a few experiences to help you figure out how biting your tongue is a serious problem. Here is what just but a few are saying:

“How can I stop biting my tongue? I mean literally biting my tongue until it bleeds. Why do I do this?” [].

“I can’t stop biting my tongue. I think I do it because of stress or anxiety. I am on Effexor antidepressant medication. I have mentioned this to my doctor and dentist, but they don’t offer any solutions. I keep thinking that I’m going to get cancer of the tongue” []

Dangers and symptoms

Some of the risks or dangers include damaging its lateral borders (a problem known as morsication lingarum where one or both sides are affected) as well as damage of the buccal mucosas or morsicatio buccarum if one has this problem.

Tongue bleeding, scalloping, soreness (pain) and ulcers might also be as a result of this habit, especially if you suffer from severe or chronic one. This might make chewing/eating and/or speaking so difficult. Finally, humming and clicking might be a vocal component of people who have this problem.

On whether you can die because you bite your tongue, the answer is no. It cannot on own cause death unless you completely bite off it, suffer from excessive bleeding without medical attention.

Why do I keep biting it – causes

Why do I keep biting my tongue or why do I chew it as I sleep, talk, eat and/or at night?  Is this accidental including biting my cheeks or have I developed this chewing disorder?  Could be it caused by stress, anxiety or some disorder? Relax and wait, let us take you through the possible reasons as to why you have this problem.

a. While eating or talking – accidentally 

Sometimes, someone may bite his/her tongue (and/or lips and inner cheeks) while eating. This is an accidental case which can be made worse and more often if one has “a disproportionately large tongue or a crowded or misaligned set of teeth” []. Such bites can mild or deep laceration. This cause should not be often but once in a while.

If you bite it while chewing, bleeding, pain or soreness, swelling, ulcer or wound is likely depending on how deep the bite is. Some cases may require emergency treatments of you are bleeding too much.

Once you have bitten it, you need to be careful while eating or talking afterward or in the next few days since a little tongue swelling will increase the chances of you biting it again.

How to avoid it 

If you have a normal bite, you need to be careful while eating. Avoid eating so fast and being involved in other activities that might distract you and concentrate.

However, if you have an overbite, see your orthodontic who may recommend various treatments, both surgical and non-surgical such as tooth reshaping, reconstruction, replacement, dentures, or prosthesis.

b. Biting tongue habit

Habits are things we regular tendencies or practices we develop which might be very difficult to break off from. To some people, constant tongue biting is nothing other than a habit they have developed. It is commonly caused by anxiety, fear, stress and other events that cause much emotional experience.

If you are constantly it, you might have developed an involuntary habit that you need to break off from. To treat it, this will require some cognitive-behavioral therapies and well as habit reversal technique. Enlist the help of a qualified therapist to help you beat this habit.

c. While sleeping or in sleep 

Whereas this can accidentally happen as you are talking or eating, to some people it happens while they are asleep especially on the side of the tongue. Sometimes, the biting might be serious and some people find their pillow bloodstained. Do not be surprised if you end up with canker sores because you bite your tongue the night before.

Questions like ‘I keep biting my tongue in my sleep’ or ‘why do I keep on biting my tongue in my sleep’ are common on the internet. This should be an illustration of how serious the problem is. For instance, here is what a few people who have this problem are saying.

“I constantly bite my tongue while I sleep and it’s getting worse. It doesn’t happen every night, but 2 to 3 times a week. Can you tell me what should I do or what can be done?” []

“I bite my tongue in my sleep. My partner noticed about a year ago, but I know it’s been going on for longer than that because I’ve been waking up with a really sore, swollen tongue with deep bite marks in it for around two years or more. This is really painful, and I don’t know what’s causing me to do this or how I can stop it. Everyone says it must be due to stress, but I wonder if it’s because my tongues too big for my mouth or my teeth are at a funny angle… Sometimes it’s so bad that it hurts to talk and my tongue bleeds from this. Can anyone offer any solutions?” – bex200619 [].

Clearly, from the above illustration, you can feel the frustration and struggle each of the two victims. There are many other victims having the same problem.

Causes of biting at night in sleep

This can be a normal problem if it occurs once in a while. While you are asleep, you can accidentally bite it especially if you have disproportionately a bigger tongue or an overbite just it would happen while you are awake eating or taking.

However, this might not be what is causing it to many people. Instead, it could be caused by nocturnal seizures, rhythmic movement disorders or sleep bruxism. All these three can often lead to a chronic tongue biting since what you could be having is the involuntary case while you think it is voluntary.

i. Nocturnal (nighttime) seizures and treatment 

Having seizures during the night is often associated with tongue biting at night or while sleeping especially if someone has the tonic-clonic seizure where “a person loses consciousness, muscles stiffen, and jerking movements are seen” []. Some seizures such as the frontal lobe epilepsy might be quite calm. Here is an illustration

“During my last seizure, I bite my tongue. It has been hurting now for a couple days now. Does anyone know a good treatment for a bitten tongue?” [].

In fact, this problem is often used as a means of diagnosing patients who suffer from seizures, especially epileptic seizures.

How to prevent biting it during a seizure

If your case due to nocturnal seizures, you need brainwave monitoring and you are diagnosed with it, you need to be treated and this will resolve.  There are many medicines for tonic-clonic seizures or even going for vagus nerve stimulation device will help stop the seizures from happening.

Furthermore, wearing mouth guards if you commonly suffer from it during seizures can be helpful.

ii. Rhythmic movement disorder

The second possible reason for this problem in your sleep could be rhythmic movement disorder, which often involves the headbanging and rolling as well as body rocking s and trunk movements. They are common in children but when severe, it can result to tongue injuries but “these repetitive movements may appear as head banging, body rocking or leg rolling and can rarely result in injuries including fractures, and brain and eye injuries”[].

This problem tends to disappear as a child grows and it might not need pharmacological treatments. Ensure our child is treated for sleep apnea as well as be involved in cognitive-behavioral therapies.

iii. Bruxism or teeth grinding and treatment

If you keep on biting your tongue while sleeping or your cheeks, it could sleep bruxism. This is a condition in which you “grind, gnash or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth together during the day, or clench or grind them at night (sleep bruxism)” []. Most people who have this problem also tend to have the problem of tongue biting while asleep.

If you have sleep bruxism, you will be clenching or grinding your teeth as you are sleeping. This can be accompanied by other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea where you will be having breathing pauses. Snoring can also be another problem that comes with bruxism.

Treatment requires dealing with the underlying cause and cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly recommended. This treatment can also help in dealing with stress and/or anxiety, which can be causing bruxism.  See a therapist help you break the habit. You will be given some habit reversal techniques that can help.

For stress caused sleep bruxism, which some women experience during pregnancy, try relaxing before going to bed by doing yoga, massage, reading, taking a bath, listening to music and deep breathing. This might help reduce it during sleep.

These are the three common conditions that can cause tongue biting in sleep. Proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary to deal with the underlying cause and/or cognitive-behavioral change and habit reversal techniques. Furthermore, mouth guards might be recommended to stop it and damaging our teeth.

Bruxism during the day

Bruxism is not only a problem that happens during the night. Some people tend to grind their teeth even when they are awake especially when anxious or stressed up. If you have this problem, which can also result in tongue biting while you are awake, ensure you record how often it happens and see a therapist for help in managing it.

d. Other causes

To begin with, some patients who are infected with Lyme disease tend to have this problem, especially in the late stage of this disease. This might be due to the “tingling of nose, (tip of) tongue, cheek or facial flushing” [] that happens when you have this problem.

Secondly, various causes of mouth ulcers and deficiency of vitamin B-12 – can cause tongue ulcers and this ulcer encourage biting it since it will be swollen.

Injuries and trauma can cause it, especially among athletes and sportspersons.

Tobacco chewing is known to “plaques in the oral cavity, which can also contribute to tongue biting” [].  Excessive gum chewing can also increase the chances of tongue chewing.

Finally, some problems have been associated with side effects of some medications especially anti-depressants, medications such as Tardive Dyskinesia.

in babies

Tongue biting, sucking it, cheek or lips are some of the habits that begin when in babies. They can begin in a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 month’s old baby. While they may be pure habits, at times, they could be a means of relieving burning mouth syndrome or temporomandibular disorders.

Another possible cause is teething or irritations cause by mouth or throat infections. If this is the case, give your child a toy to bite instead of them biting their tongue.

To illustrate the seriousness of this problem, here is what some mothers have reported:

“I’ve noticed lately he looks like a cow chewing cud. He does this throughout the day, here and there, and he doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. I checked his gums but it doesn’t look red or irritated” – Pandme []


“Help! My son (1 year 10 month old) has bitten his tongue because he was sick (swollen tonsils) and got irritated. What medicine should i give to cure and relieve his injury?” – Oooicieooo []

How to stop it

While looking at each of the possible causes, we mentioned treatments or ways on how to break away from this habit (whether it is chronic or involuntary).

Visit your dentists and therapists to guide you on how you can manage this problem and use mouth guards to avoid teeth damage and injuries especially if you are a sportsperson.

How to heal a bitten tongue

We have seen the causes and treatments that will be helpful to stop this habit. In case you have a bitten tongue that resulted in a wound, how can you heal it quickly?

In case it’s bleeding, apply pressure since blood flows under pressure. This first aid tip will be helpful for minor tongue bites. To do this, press it against your cheeks or roof of the mouth, depending on the location of the injury. A piece of ice or clean cloth can also be used in applying pressure.

Secondly, examine the wound to know how bad the bite was. If it is serious or badly injured, see your dentist for further treatment.

For minor cases, you can use salt water rinse. It will help in speeding up healing since it controls bacterial action in the bitten area.  Swish for about 20 seconds a mixture of a teaspoon of sea salt and warm water.

Other home remedies often proposed to help heal a bitten tongue fast include taking vitamin B, C and zinc supplements, using milk of magnesia, baking soda, oral adhesive pastes, hydrogen peroxide, mouthwashes,  mouth gels, Aloe Vera, and applying an ice pack.

How long it will take for a tongue bite to heal will depend on the seriousness of the bite. In case you have tried the various remedies and it is not healing after a few days to about a week, see your dentist for further help.

To conclude, there are many superstitions associated with tongue biting or trying to explain the meaning. For instance, it is believed that “bite your tongue in speaking; the next statement would have been a lie” [].

I am not dismissing them but I would wish to clarify that biting your tongue is a problem not caused by superstitions but needs treatment or cure.

Our sources and references
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