Accidentally biting your tongue or lip is extremely common and can be very painful, (as we’ve all experienced at some time in our life!), but can it actually be dangerous?
Tongue and lip bites do not usually require medical attention, as painful as they may feel, and typically heal on their own within a few hours or a few days. However, because our jaw muscles are so powerful, if the bite is hard enough, it can be a very serious problem.
The mouth has an ample blood supply, and a severe bite to the tongue or lip can result in quite a bit of bleeding. Most of the time though, it only results in pain and swelling. Fortunately, in these types of injuries typically heal reasonably quickly thanks to that excellent blood supply. To help ward off infection, it is very important to keep the lacerated area very clean, since there is also a lot of bacteria in our mouths.
Accidentally biting our tongue or lip can be caused by things like: Trying to eat too soon while still numb from having dental work done, falling, sports injuries, car accidents, seizures, getting hit in the jaw and more.
WHAT TO DO
These at-home treatments are just that: At home treatments. If your bite was the result of major trauma, like a car accident or sports injury and heavy bleeding and severe pain are present, you should seek medical treatment right away.
Rinse the wound with cold water or with salt water so you can see the laceration and evaluate its severity. You can use a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water if you like, but do not do this with young children (because they might swallow it).
Clean the site with gauze: Assess the area for any debris, primarily if the injury occurred from a fall. (Side note* If it was from a fall or some other traumatic event, like a car accident, be sure to check your teeth as well, to see if any are chipped or broken). Clean the area very gently with a clean piece of gauze. If there is debris stuck deeply inside the laceration, do not attempt to remove it. See a doctor right away.
To reduce swelling: If the bleeding stops and the swelling is severe, apply a cold compress to the area to help reduce the swelling. For injuries inside the mouth, you might use a popsicle to keep the site cold or hold ice cubes inside your mouth.
To control excessive bleeding, apply firm pressure over the wound with a clean piece of gauze or a clean towel. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, continue applying pressure to the area and head to the nearest medical center for immediate care.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil or Tylenol.
- Apply a numbing/antiseptic mouth gel, like Apply with a clean cotton swab 3-4 times a day.
- Use Baking Soda. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda with water until it forms a smooth consistency. Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and apply it to the bitten area. Baking soda lessens the acids and bacteria. It is helpful in reducing swelling and inflammatory pain.
- Consume honey. Fill a poon with honey, lick the it off or drip it onto the wounded area. Repeat this twice a day. The honey will coat your mouth and help prevent the accumulation of harmful bacteria. For even better results, add a dash of turmeric to the honey. Turmeric is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and will help in the bacteria fight, which will promote healing.
- You can also rinse with an antacid/antihistamine. Take one part diphenhydramine, like Benadryl Allergy Liquid, and one part of an antacid, like Milk of Magnesia, and mix it together. Swish this mixture in your mouth for a minute and then spit it out. You can do this once or twice a day.
Antacids control the acid levels in the mouth which promotes healing. An antihistamine will lessen the inflammation. Combining these medicines creates what some people refer to as a “miracle mouthwash.” If you don’t feel comfortable swishing the mixture, you can also make the solution a bit thicker and apply it as a paste.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Sometimes it’s hard to know when a bite is bad enough to seek medical care, because even minor tongue and lip injuries bleed excessively. In rare cases an untreated bite may get infected. If you experience any of the following signs of an infection, seek medical attention right away:
- A bite that has completely pierced or severed the tongue or lip (may require sutures)
- Excessive swelling or throbbing
- Bleeding that doesn’t stop, even after applying pressure
- Clear or white discharge from the wound
- Difficulty opening your mouth, breathing or swallowing
- A large, open wound
- Any broken or loose teeth should be checked by your dentist
Chances are, your bite is minor and will heal on its own and managed with the above tips. If you are unable to manage the bleeding or pain, or if you begin to see signs of infection, see your dentist ASAP.