Biting Tongue In Sleep: 8 Causes, Symptoms And Effective Treatments

Most people bite their tongue accidentally while eating or talking. However, did you know, it is common to bite the tongue in sleep too? Conditions like facial muscle spasms can be the reason for biting tongue in sleep.

Biting tongue in sleep is a common problem in children. But it can also affect adults as well. When someone bites the tongue during the daytime, he or she is mostly conscious. But when a person bites their tongue unconsciously during the night, it may be due to to some underlying medical condition. People who bite their tongues at night are at risk of developing an infection, ulcers, scalloping on their tongues.

A. Why Does a Person Bite His/Her Tongue Unconsciously During Sleep?

There may be various underlying reasons which may result in biting tongue in sleep.

One common reason is when your tongue is enlarged or swollen. It is easier to bite down on it frequently in this case while you are sleeping.

If one wants to prevent biting tongue in sleep, the person must first find the cause of it. Frequent biting may be an indication of sleep apnea, bruxism, nighttime seizures, or stress. And it is important to acknowledge that sleep-related disorders can be dangerous and not only affect your oral health but also your entire health.

biting tongue in sleep
Photo from wilmingtondedentist.com/ Bing

B. Causes Of Biting Tongue In Sleep

There are several reasons which may result in a person biting tongue in sleep.

The common causes of involuntary tongue biting are:

1. Sleep Apnea

Biting tongue in sleep is common in many people suffering from sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea often have a large tongue or the muscles in their mouth are abnormally relaxed during sleep. It causes lapses in breathing and oxygen deprivation.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring a large neck circumference headaches and teeth grinding. Sleep apnea can cause your jaws to clench together when your body is deprived of air.

2. Nocturnal Seizures

These epileptic seizures are caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain cells. This usually causes to muscles of the body to tighten or weaken temporarily. Nighttime seizures may be an indicator of epilepsy. These people may not have any other symptoms during the daytime which makes it harder to determine the cause of tongue injuries.

People who suffer from epileptic seizures lose control over their behaviors and movements and tend to bite their tongues unconsciously. These bites usually occur on the tip of the tongue or the sides. If a person has chronic diseases he or she is more likely to experience biting on parts of the tongue, especially the edges. It can cause muscle tension and jerking movements.

The condition can be diagnosed by observing their brain waves. The primary treatment for this medical disorder is prescription medication.

3. Sleep Rhythmic Movement Disorder

People suffering from these sleep disorders experience sudden jerks, rapid movements, or twitching when they are asleep. It usually occurs in the head and neck area.

Sleep rhythmic movement disorder is most common in children and can involve head banging, head rolling, and body reckoning. This may lead to injuries in the eyes, tongue, and brain. The pervasiveness of this sleep disorder decreases with growing age.

They are involuntary and usually occur just before or during sleep and last up to 15 minutes. Brain and eye damage may occur in serious but rare cases. Adults who experience sleep rhythmic movement disorder are advised to have controlled sleep restrictions or prescribed medication which can be used to treat their condition.

4. Sleep Bruxism

When a person grinds or clenches his teeth involuntarily while sleeping, it is called sleep bruxism. This teeth grinding habit can lead bruxers to accidentally bite or scrape the tongue. In most cases, it is accompanied by other sleeping disorders like sleep apnea which can cause pauses in breathing.

Frequent teeth gnashing can lead to intense pain, tongue bleeding redness, or a swollen tongue or lip. Some common symptoms of Brooks CISM are headaches, jaw pain, and flattened or worn teeth. You may also suffer from tongue scalloping due to this disease.

5. Misaligned Bite

A misaligned bite can cause bruxism as well as tongue biting while sleeping. It can also restrict the movement of your tongue. It forcefully sits unnaturally in the mouth which eventually results in more frequent tongue biting. The improper alignment of the upper and lower teeth can cause these painful symptoms.

6. Facio-Mandibular Myoclonus

It is a parasomnia distinguished by forceful muscle jerks of masticatory muscles in sleep. This problem commonly comes with recurrent nocturnal tongue biting. It is a rare and under-recognized stereotyped parasomnia and is often misdiagnosed for nocturnal seizures.

7. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that negatively affects the brain and nervous system. It results in incorrect or misfired nerve signals throughout the body. People experience involuntary movements while sleeping as a side effect that can cause them to bite their tongues.

8. Drug Use

Recreational drugs like MDMA and other stimulants can lead to excessive gnashing of teeth and biting tongue in sleep.

These drugs speed up the activity in the central nervous system which causes an adrenaline rush. The body reacts by grinding the teeth, clenching the jaw, and biting the tongue and cheeks.

The drug can increase anxiety at times. As the drugs act at a low level and people don’t often realize the damage they have been inflicting on their oral health.

Biting Tongue in Sleep
Photo by lilartsy from Pexels

C. Symptoms Of Biting Tongue In Sleep

The habit of biting the tongue while sleeping can be downright irritating and painful. People who bite their tongue, do it on the sides that are closer to the tip. You can more likely observe a white line down the side of your tongue where your teeth keep biting it. It can also cause pain when you are speaking for eating. It can happen at any stage of life.

You cannot easily determine that you have been biting tongue in sleep. However, there are various signs which indicate that you suffer from this problem. These may include:

• Tongue Ulcer in that region
• Redness or a swollen tongue
• Tongue bleeding
• Pain
• Raw, scalloped edges on tongue
• Cuts or marks on the tongue

D. Treatment For Biting Tongue In Sleep

Tongue biting can cause injuries. The healing process depends on the severity of the injury. Minor tongue injuries heal on their own within a week. But severe injuries may require medical attention like stitches or medication. This may take several weeks or even months to fully heal.

Nighttime tongue biting may bleed. Usually, we don’t require medical treatment for this as they heal normally. If the bite is minor, you can treat it at home. However, there are certain treatments recommended too

1. A Sleep Study

You can consult your neurologist if you suspect having seizures in your sleep. They will conduct a sleep study for you to determine what is exactly happening in your brain when you are asleep. The sleep study consists of an EEG machine that monitors your brainwave activity in the different stages while sleeping. This will disclose the many possible reasons for your tongue biting habits and make it easier to find a cure.

2. Apply Ice To Affected Areas

If you suffer from tongue injuries like swelling, cuts, or redness, you can topically apply ice on the affected area. Treating the area with a cold compress for the eyes will reduce the pain. Ice will also reduce the inflammation and swelling in the tongue.

3. Rinse Mouth With Salty Water

If you have an open wound, you can use a warm salt water rinse for about 20 seconds. The warm and salty water will kill the bacteria and prevent any infection to creep in. It also speeds up the healing process.

4. Mouth Guards And Splints

Having night guards can be an effective tool to prevent biting tongue in sleep. For a person suffering from bruxism, mouthguards are the best option to prevent further damage.

The problem of clenching or biting of the tongue can be easily salt if one buys a custom-fitted mouthguard for tongue biting. Dave guards at specially molded to fit your tongue and restrict the movement in your mouth. This way you will potentially prevent yourself from getting hurt.

biting tongue in sleep
Photo by Dominic Freeman from Flickr

5. Reduce Stress

Anxiety and depression are precursors of bruxism. It is a rhythmic movement disorder and may be associated with high levels of stress and anxiety. One can learn stress management through yoga, meditation, or other relaxation methods.

6. Meet a Doctor

If you suspect that you have done serious damage to your oral health, you must visit a doctor. They can help to assess the state of your mouth and identify any underlying problems.

E. When Should One Seek For Immediate Medical Attention?

One should get immediate medical assistance on facing these symptoms:

biting tongue in sleep
Photo by mmtstp from Flickr

• tongue appears red or swollen
• is very painful
• tongue starts bleeding excessively
• looks visibly deformed
• when the tongue bleeds for a second time after the original bleeding has stopped
• when it feels warm
• is accompanied by a fever
• when you see red streaks or pus on the tongue

F. Preventing Biting Tongue In Sleep

If you tend to bite your tongue during sleep, you can go to a dental office and grab a mouth guard to prevent biting. The oral device will slip easily over the teeth and prevent you from biting your tongue. The device prevents the tongue from moving around the mouth during sleep. This will eventually prevent the teeth from biting it.

G. Bottom Line

Many people are unaware of these issues and detect what’s going on because of the chronic sores and pain. It is important to determine the underlying cause of the pain and treat the condition accordingly. Take the measures to prevent your tongue from biting and visit the doctor if needed.

Any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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