i bite my tongue in my sleep

Biting Tongue In Sleep? Signs, Risk & Treatment

Why am I Biting My Tongue In Sleep?

Tongue biting is a common problem.

Complaints of ‘biting tongue in sleep’ or ‘biting my cheek’ while sleeping are all too familiar to dentists and can be downright irritating and painful.

The damage done to the tongue or cheek can be quite distressing and even visible. People who bite their tongue while sleeping commonly bite it on the sides or on its tip.

Tenderness, bleeding and incessant throbbing are uncomfortable symptoms but good news! It can be relieved.

You’re not alone, and there IS a solution.

Severe tongue biting problems can lead to tongue scalloping, soreness and ulcers. Tongue biting can also cause pain while speaking and eating. This can begin at any stage in life.

tongue biting night guards cheek biting protection
(pictured) Sentinel Soft Tongue Biting Guards (upper and lower teeth) provides padding on the chewing surfaces of the teeth to protect the tongue and cheek area from the teeth

What causes biting my tongue in sleep? Why does my tongue hurt?

“I bite my tongue in my sleep. Why?”

There are a number of causes for tongue biting while asleep. One common cause is when your tongue is bigger than it should be. In this case, it is a frequent occurrence to accidentally bite it while eating or talking.
Other causes include; rhythmic disorder, nocturnal seizures and sleep bruxism. All these lead to involuntary tongue biting.

Let us look at each one of them briefly.

  • Nocturnal seizures (nighttime seizures)

    Having seizures during the night can induce biting the tongue. If a person has chronic seizures they are likely to experience biting on parts of the tongue, especially the edges. A seizure is a is a state in which a person has lost consciousness, jerking movements are seen and the muscles stiffen. Some seizures however might be calm and therefore harder to be noted. Tongue biting is listed as a common symptom in people suffering from seizures.

    People suffering from nocturnal seizures may not have any other symptom during the day, making it hard to determine the cause of the tongue injuries. However, the condition can be diagnosed by observing brainwaves. Prescription medication is the primary treatment for this condition. Once taken, the biting stops.

  • Rhythmic movement disorder

    The second potential reason for biting your tongue while sleeping is rhythmic movement disorder. Rhythmic movement disorder involves banging of the head, truck movements and rocking and rolling.

    Mostly common in children, it does not always result in injuries, but when severe, it can lead to tongue injuries. It involves repeated movements of the head and neck. The movements are involuntary and usually occur before and during sleep. They can last about 15 minutes. The victim can suffer from various injuries tongue biting included. In serious but rare cases, brain and eye damage can occur.

    The movements usually go unnoticed by the sufferer since they do not cause much pain. They only come to know about the problem after noticing the injuries on their tongue or other parts of the body. In many cases, the seizures stop as the child grows up, so medical treatment may not be necessary. In adults, controlled sleep restrictions or medical drugs may be used to treat the condition.

  • Teeth grinding or bruxism

    Bruxism is another cause of tongue biting during sleep. In most cases, it is accompanied by other sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea which causes breathing pauses. Snoring is also a common problem that can accompany teeth grinding. People with the habit of grinding their teeth while sleeping may accidentally bite their tongue.

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  • Sleep Apnea

    This is a condition where you experience shallow breath or frequent pauses while breathing. The tongue relaxes and can slip between the teeth, resulting in tongue injury. Doctors can prescribe treatment for sleep apnea which can stop this form of tongue biting.

  • Lyme Disease

    This disease negatively affects the brain and nervous system. Incorrect or misfired brain signals are sent to the muscles and nerves causing involuntary movements during sleep that can cause you to bite your tongue.

  • Drug Use such as MDMA (ecstasy)

    MDMA, or ecstasy; a synthetic, psychoactive drug that acts as a stimulant and increases energy and pleasure. Many people have damaged their tongue, gums and cheeks from taking MDMA.

    The drug can increase anxiety and the tongue biting can even feel pleasurable while on drugs. However the damage can be troublesome.

  • Effect of Medication

    Prescribed medications like antidepressants may have negative reactions or side effects and causes tongue biting during sleep. A change in medication could prevent this.

  • Ill-fitting Dentures

    Dentures that are not fitted properly can cause you to bite your tongue while sleeping.

Other causes of tongue biting include Lyme disease, swollen tongue ulcers, tobacco chewing and side effects of some medications.

More on Nighttime Tongue Biting

Nighttime tongue biting is a condition that has disturbed many people, leaving them frustrated and seeking answers. Everyone has bitten their tongue at one point or another but this is mostly accidental and happens mostly when eating or talking. It can happen occasionally while sleeping but this is normal. Some causes include having a disproportionately large tongue or having a set of misaligned teeth. Nighttime tongue biting becomes a problem when it is a habit.

How common is it?

Millions of people around the world suffer from tongue biting at night.

Some people are not aware of it yet since it can be hard to determine the problem, especially when it is not as a result of an underlying illness. It may take time before the problem is detected. To determine approximately how many people suffer from nighttime tongue biting, we could look at the number of people suffering from bruxism, epilepsy and sleep apnea.

One in five people suffer from excessive teeth grinding.

Millions of people suffer from epilepsy with over 2 million in the United States. Sleep apnea afflicts more than 20 million in the United States with millions more found all over the world. If all these people suffer from excessive tongue biting frequently then there are likely millions of people experiencing nighttime tongue biting.

damage from tongue bitingDamages Caused by Tongue Biting

  1. In frequent cases of tongue biting, the lateral sides of the tongue are affected and you develop a condition known as Morsication lingarum which only affects the tongue’s lateral sides.
  2. Bleeding may occur when the biting is frequent and cuts into the tongue
  3. Tongue ulcers can form as a result of tongue biting. They usually heal within 10 days
  4. Your tongue may be sore after frequent biting thus making you uncomfortable

All these may make it hard for you to eat certain types of foods, especially spicy ones. Speaking may become difficult and chewing food may be difficult.

Prevent Damage from Tongue Biting

While biting cannot be controlled there are measures you can take to prevent damage.

One of the most effective prevention methods is to wear a soft, thin custom-made night guard on both the lower and upper teeth.

Over-the-counter night mouth guards will not fit perfectly and can cause further oral damage. You can visit your dentist to take dental impressions, create a mold, and then send it to a dental lab for a mouth guard tailored specifically for you. But that is the most expensive route. For a more affordable alternative, purchase online.

Treating Tongue Damage
If you have experienced any damage resulting from tongue biting, there are steps you can take to heal the tongue and prevent further damage.

These methods include:

  1. Using salt solution
    This helps kill bacteria and aids the tongue in the healing process. The solution should be warm with small amounts of salt. Hot water will increase pain and discomfort in the tongue.
  2. Using Ice cubes
    They help to reduce swelling and also numb nerves on the tongue to reduce pain and soreness
  3. Avoiding spicy foods until the tongue heals.
  4. PREVENTING FURTHER DAMAGE; Wear soft dental night guards on both your upper and lower teeth. Choose thin, 1mm guards so that they are unobtrusive and easy to sleep with. You will want custom-fitted guards for the most comfort.

Preventing tongue biting in sleep

The best way to prevent tongue biting problems is by treating the cause or knowing how to avoid it. The following are treatments used for different causes.

Treatment for rhythmic disorder.

Cognitive behavior therapy is recommended for people suffering from sleep apnea. Rhythmic movements are usually associated with children and can disappear as the child grows older. This might not require pharmacological treatment.

Treatment for seizures.

If your nighttime tongue biting is caused by seizures, the normal course of treatment by a doctor should be followed. If treated successfully, it will prevent tongue-biting.

There are several medications for tonic-clonic seizures. Going for a vagus nerve stimulation device may also reduce the chances of seizure occurrence.

Treatment for bruxism.

Bruxism requires you to treat the underlying cause. Cognitive behavior therapy is recommended. It helps in dealing with anxiety and stress which are major causes of bruxism. Ensuring that your mind is relaxed before going to bed can greatly reduce the chances of bruxism.

Protecting your tongue during sleep using a night mouth guard

Regardless of the causes there are ways you can protect your tongue from more damage by using mouth guards. These are plastic mouth appliances made to fit over the teeth. They are meant to reduce the damage effect of the teeth to the tongue, should it be caught between them.

The mouth guards are also referred to as night dental guards. Wearing dental guards is the best way to prevent damage to the tongue. There are several types of Mouth guards:

Standard and Boil & Bite athletic mouth guards (Completely different from dental night guards)

These are the mouth guards used by persons who play sports. They are made from tough plastic and they either can’t be adjusted at all, or they conform to the shape of your mouth by using hot water and manual manipulation. They are available in most sports stores and are NOT recommended for wearing at night.

Standard dental night guards

These are one size fits all, mass-produced night guards designed for nighttime use. They are largely seen as too bulky, ineffective and uncomfortable, though they are affordable.

Boil & Bite mouth guards

These are made from a special kind of plastic that allows you to semi custom-fit them. They’re softened by hot water and then adjusted to fit your mouth. They are available in most CVS or Walgreens stores.

Custom-fitted mouth guards

sentinel soft dental night guard

Sentinel Soft Dental Night Guard. For tongue biting it is recommended to wear a soft dental night guard on both the upper and lower teeth arches. 90 day satisfaction guarantee + free shipping included.

These are made in a dental lab to fit your mouth. The dentist takes an impression of your teeth and then creates a model. The model is then sent to a lab that makes a custom guard according to that model. You can also order one online and take your own dental impression in the convenience of your own home. Your dental impression is sent to the Sentinel dental lab using our convenient mail-order system.

It is always best to consult a dentist before buying a night guard. They will help determine the best mouth guard for you, especially if your tongue biting is caused by seizure disorder.