Most of us bite our tongue or cheek from time to time. Typically, it hurts for a few days and then heals on its own. But sometimes, we keep repeating the same action, and biting the tongue or cheek becomes a real problem.
Excessively biting the tongue or cheek can cause chronic swelling, bleeding, pain, soreness and can even lead to infections and ulcers. When tongue biting or cheek biting has become more than just a minor issue, it’s time to explore treatment options and prevention.
Why do we bite our tongue in our sleep?
There are several reasons why a person bites their tongue or cheek.
It can start as an accidental bite. Then the area inflames. Because of the swelling, we continue to accidentally bite the damaged tongue or cheek. This can make it hard for the area to heal on its own. Though most of the time we accidentally bite our tongue, it does heal on its own.
Chronic Cheek Biting
Morsicatio buccarum is a condition that develops from chewing, nibbling, or biting on the cheek inside the mouth. This causes chronic irritation or injury to the buccal mucosa (the lining of the inside of the cheek within the mouth). It is comparable to other behaviors such as hair pulling, nail-biting, and frequent blinking.
Stress and Other Underlying Conditions
Stress has always been cited as a cause of bruxism. Bruxism is the excessive grinding or clenching of the teeth during sleep.Since this is an unconscious behavior, the tongue and cheek are not always safe. If you’re biting your tongue or cheek while you sleep, you may have an underlying medical condition such as bruxism to thank. Another example of an underlying medical condition that can cause tongue, lip, and/or cheek biting is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). This is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder. If you do have an underlying medical condition that is causing you to bite your tongue, cheek, or lip excessively, a sleep study is recommended to determine the root cause. Interesting fact: Smokers and drinkers are about twice as likely to have bruxism versus non-smokers and non-drinkers.
Facial muscle spasms
Again, there’s a strong connection here to teeth grinding at night but the muscle spasms can also be caused by dental infections, dental damage or trauma from an injury, or taking certain medications. People who suffer from facial and jaw spasms during sleep do so unconsciously and are therefore unable to control their actions which might include tongue or cheek biting.
There are many drugs both prescription and illegal that can cause tongue-in-cheek biting. For example, MDMA acts as a stimulant and psychedelic. It can induce the desire to bite your tongue or cheek. Adderall, Ritalin, Cocaine, and Ecstasy are all examples of drugs that energize the body and can entice lip, tongue, and/or cheek biting.
Spread by a tick bit, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Lyme disease. Symptoms can range widely and can extend to the central nervous system and bodily reflexes. Lyme disease can cause a person to bite their tongue or cheek.
During an epileptic seizure, a person loses control over their body movements. This can make them more vulnerable to tongue biting, especially during the night
What can we do to stop it?
It is suggested that a sleep study should be the first step. A well-done sleep study can detect any underlying issues.
Wear Tongue & Cheek Protection Guards
These are custom-made clear guards for your teeth. Created from dental impressions of your teeth, the soft padding on these guards disallows contact between the teeth and the tongue or cheek. These upper and lower soft guards are to be worn as a set. They’re thin and comfortable so you can wear them either during the day or at night or both. Just take them out while you’re eating or drinking. You can communicate with them easily. Wearing tongue and cheek protection guards will allow the area to heal and prevent future injury.
We know you’ve heard it before and here it is again. Reducing stress is a key factor in lessening the ailments of the body. Try eliminating the things that are harmful. Eating clean, getting exercise, making lists, staying organized and daily meditation are proven methods for reducing stress. Consistency is key. Reducing stress doesn’t happen overnight.
Applying ice to the damaged area(s) reduces swelling and offers relief.
Seek professional help
If you suffer from chronically biting your cheeks, lip, or tongue, schedule an appointment with your dentist. He/she can check the damaged areas and determine if the infection is present and implement a treatment plan if necessary.