Crafted in California - guaranteed to last at least one year or your money back!

by JS Dental Lab |

Reasons You May Be Biting Your Tongue in Your Sleep

The human tongue is full of nerves that connect to all sorts of places in the body. 

But until you bite it, you don’t realize just how sensitive it really is!

An occasional tongue bite happens when you’re chewing food in a hurry or get hit in the face. These events produce instant, severe pain. Luckily, the severity goes away quickly, but the tongue tissue can still be sore for a while.

There are people who are chronic tongue biters, though. They bite their tongue in their sleep or when they’re nervous.

If you’re one of them, you know the consequences of chronic biting and chewing on this sensitive area. Your taste buds pay the price first. Then, more severe issues, such as ulcers and infection, can occur.

Since the action is subconscious, it’s hard to stop doing it. Hard, but not impossible! And we’re happy to show you how.

The best way to save your tongue from further damage is to determine what’s causing the behavior. It could be mental, or it might be physical. 

This guide will help you narrow down the reason and how to fix it so you can enjoy all the taste buds your tongue is supposed to have!

Tongue Biting Explained

People who chronically bite their tongue, lips, and cheek have a medical condition called Morsicatio buccarum. It shows up as symptoms such as oral lesions and injury to the teeth and gums.

The damage can be accidental through unconscious behaviors due to bruxism and muscle spasms or self-inflicted on purpose. 

We’ll break down two common types of biting: sleep biting and nervous biting.

Sleep Biting

Sleep biting is usually the result of a condition called bruxism. Bruxism, otherwise known as teeth grinding, happens involuntarily when a person undergoes severe emotional changes, like fear or stress.

There are two distinct types of bruxism, awake and asleep. 

But if you’re grinding and clenching while you’re awake, it’s easier to avoid biting your tongue. After all, when it starts to hurt, you notice!

Surprisingly, you can put a lot of force on your teeth and tongue when you’re sleeping. Your bite strength is brutal — as you clench your jaw, you can grind your teeth with up to 250 pounds of force

That’s going to do some damage to the soft tissues of your tongue, for sure.

Night guards don’t stop the behavior, but they reduce the damage that 250 pounds of bite force can do to your teeth and tongue by serving as a buffer between your upper and lower teeth.

Our line of night guards are comfortable since they’re custom-designed for your mouth. And they do not cover the tongue or restrict its movement. For tongue biters, however, they can serve to soften your bite.

People with sleep bruxism are the perfect candidates for custom-made night guards, like those offered by JS Dental Lab. Check out our blog about how stress and bruxism are related and how our night guards can help.

Nervous Biting

Do you find yourself chewing your tongue throughout the day? 

You may not even notice you’re doing it until someone points it out, or you get that one painful spot that wakes you up to your behavior.

This type of nervous biting is Morsicatio linguarum because it’s specific to the inner lip and tongue. It starts when you’re nervous but becomes a hard habit to break.

As the tissues are damaged, you chew on them more rather than less. The tissue has to heal, so you may need a night guard (sometimes called a mouth guard) to protect them in your sleep and give the tissue a chance to heal. 

However, depending on how severe your habit and damage are, you may need to wear the guard during the day and in your sleep.

Potential Consequences of Both

Serious damage can result from continuously chewing and grinding during your sleep or from nervous biting. 

You may notice mouth sores and ulcers that become painful and infected. The more you chew at the damaged area, the worse it becomes. 

Other side effects include redness and swelling, pain, bleeding, and raw tissue (called scalloping) along the edges of the tongue.

Ulcers are just the short-term consequences. 

Long-term? There’s the potential that these mouth lesions can lead to mouth cancer. It’s a chance that isn’t worth taking if you can find an easy way to stop this painful and dangerous habit.

Possible Reason You’re Biting #1: Bruxism

closeup of a young woman's teeth and tongue while smiling

As we mentioned earlier, bruxism is a behavior where you grind your teeth and clench your jaw. 

You can have awake bruxism or sleep bruxism. Both are involuntary habits.

Awake Bruxism

This kind of subconscious behavior is almost entirely related to stress and anxiety. It becomes a coping strategy for an individual dealing with negative emotions.

Typically, sleep bruxism is more common. 

However, awake bruxism is most frequent in people who tend to feel more stressed, like college students.

People with awake bruxism tend to have jaw pain or limited range of motion symptoms. 

Chewing the tongue or cheek is a coping mechanism that helps the individual get through the stress. So, the fix needs to focus on getting rid of the mental anxiety or finding other, healthier strategies to cope. 

An oral appliance can reduce the damage, but only if you wear it all the time. After all, you will likely feel stressed at some point during the day!

Sleep Bruxism

Sleep bruxism can happen at any age. However, it’s prevalent in children and young adults. 

In fact, nearly 50% of children have experienced teeth grinding in their sleep. The newness of their incoming teeth, stress that they don’t know how to cope with, and other factors cause the involuntary behavior.

Over the years, this number gradually declines. We know teenagers tend to have a lot of stress and only a handful of coping mechanisms. 

As we grow into adults, we’ve learned how to deal with our anxiety in other ways, so teeth grinding after young adulthood lessens.

The problem with these numbers is that many people don’t know they’re grinding their teeth. 

Until you seek help to figure out why your tongue is swollen, or your neck, jaw, or teeth hurt, you may have no idea that you’ve been clenching and grinding.

Related: 5 Things to Know About Kids’ Mouth Guards

Sleep Bruxism and the Consequences

Other side effects of bruxism can include headaches in the morning upon waking up and unexplained damage to teeth enamel.

With long-term grinding often comes irreversible harm to the teeth. The enamel might wear down, and the roots loosen. 

Dental treatment can minimize the damage. But even the crowns and fillings in your teeth are susceptible to injury (remember, 250 pounds of bite force). 

Your TMJ is also at risk from bruxism. The TMJ, short for the temporomandibular joint, connects your lower jaw to the skull and is necessary for any motion of your mouth, like chewing and talking.  

The more you clench and grind, the greater the damage to this joint. If you’ve noticed jaw pain, clicking or popping noises when you open your mouth, or pain in the neck by your ear, you may have a TMJ injury.

How severe the consequences depends on how often you’re grinding and how straight your teeth align. Other factors, like your diet and stress level, also play a part. 

Sleep bruxism can be anxiety-related or genetic. Smokers, regular alcohol drinkers, people who drink lots of caffeine, or those who snore tend to suffer from bruxism.

Pinpointing and fixing the cause may put an end to your clenching and grinding altogether. 

Until then, get a custom-made night guard from JS Dental Lab to limit the damage that massive bite force is doing to your mouth and tongue!

Possible Reason You’re Biting #2: Muscle Spasms

Did you know everyone gets muscle spasms at some point? 

Common causes include dehydration, overexerting yourself physically, and stress. 

Muscle spasms can happen in any muscle throughout your body. But when the spasm occurs in a muscle connected to your mouth, the result may be tongue damage.

Muscle spasms of the face and jaw that result in biting are most common in children, although they can happen at any age. 

The chin trembles involuntarily while the person is sleeping. This tremble can be minor or severe enough to cause the jaw to clench and bite the tongue or cheek.

Reasons for Muscle Spasms

Sure, we all have muscle spasms occasionally, but most of us don’t end up with soft tissue damage to our tongues from them. 

So why does this happen? 

It could be a condition called facio-mandibular myoclonus. It’s a rare occurrence, but it happens. 

If you have facio-mandibular myoclonus, your motor activities run on autopilot in your sleep. The symptoms mimic epilepsy and bruxism, so your doctor may misdiagnose it as one of those two conditions.

Because it’s a neurologic disorder, you’ll need to see a neurologist if this is why you’re biting your tongue. Some medications could help.

In the meantime, wearing a night guard when you’re sleeping may prevent excessive damage.

Similar: Our Best Tips for Sleeping With a Mouth Guard

Possible Reason You’re Biting #3: Bad Habits

Many of the sleeping issues we have can be linked back to stress. But sometimes, your bad habits can cause them.

Drug use and smoking are two of these habits. 

When you’re ingesting chemicals like nicotine or alcohol, your brain gets confused. And with hard drugs like MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) and other synthetics, the ingredients can be deadly.

Drug and nicotine chemicals cause the central nervous system to remain active in your sleep. This keeps your brainwaves on alert instead of relaxed, and you end up unconsciously moving your jaw muscles (hence, the nighttime tongue biting). 

This disorder comes with good news and bad news. 

The good news is that biting your tongue at night from bad habits has the easiest fix! 

The bad news is that you must quit the habit, which can be difficult. However, it’s worth it for your overall health. You’ll be saving more than your tongue.

Possible Reason You’re Biting #4: Sleep Disorders

person sleeping in a bed, only feet are visible sticking out of covers

Have you talked to your dentist or doctor about your nocturnal tongue biting? There might be a sleep disorder to blame.

Sleep disorders that are known to have nighttime tongue chewing or biting as a side effect include:

  • Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that stops and starts your breathing, corrected with some lifestyle changes and a CPAP machine to help your airway.
  • Nocturnal seizures, often associated with epilepsy and occur when your brain’s electrical activity changes between sleep stages, fixed with medication and therapies from a specialist.
  • Sleep Rhythmic Movement Disorder (RMD), characterized by significant muscle movement in sleep, such as body rocking, headbanging, or head rolling. Meds can help RMD, but the person should grow out of it in time.

Each of these sleep disorders is extremely serious, and you should discuss them with your medical doctor. 

With the proper medication and treatments, you can reduce epileptic seizures, sleep apnea, and RMD, and the damage from tongue biting can heal.  

How to Stop Biting

Now that you know why you may keep biting the edges or tip of the tongue, you can learn to stop the behavior.

Start With a Night Guard for Protection First

The easiest thing is to start with a night guard while solving the underlying cause. 

You can get one over-the-counter, but a custom-made oral appliance from JS Dental Lab is the best for your oral health. 

When you work with JS Dental Lab, you can skip the expense of the dental office visit. You complete the process online and through the mail. 

JS Dental Lab uses American Dental Association (ADA)-compliant materials, a combination of dental-grade PETG and TPU. 

Because of this, they offer the most protection. This article from PubMed explains how night guards and dental splints can effectively manage bruxism and other sleep conditions.

Sleep Studies 

To determine if you have a sleep disorder, visit your medical physician. They’ll refer you for testing, like an EEG, to check for nighttime seizures.

A sleep study is another way to analyze what’s going on when you’re asleep. You can undergo a sleep study at home or in the specialist’s office.

Once you understand why your brain signals your jaw to chew your tongue, you can get dedicated help.

Stress Reduction Techniques

Stress is almost always a small part of tongue biting, so stress reduction techniques will help.

Try these minor adjustments in your routine to get rid of a little bit of your daily stress:

  • Pay attention to your body to see when you feel stressed 
  • Chew sugar-free gum to release some of the energy in your central nervous system
  • Practice relaxation methods like meditation and deep breathing daily
  • Exercise or stay active
  • Talk to a mental health counselor

See Your Dentist

If you have bruxism or another dental health issue, work with your dentistry professional regularly. 

They’ll be able to check the positioning of your teeth for misalignments and watch the growth as you work on your treatments.

You may also like: Routine Dental Care Checklist

Conclusion

Tongue injuries don’t just show up on their own. There’s always an underlying cause that leads to damage. 

While you work on narrowing down the reason for your tongue biting and the lacerations that come with it, try a night guard from JS Dental Lab.

The guard won’t fix the medical condition, but it will help you feel better as you reduce the damage!