Tongue Biting: Why, and How to Stop?
October 4, 2007 6:55 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop biting my tongue? I mean literally biting my tongue until it bleeds. Why do I do this?

I've done this all my life, but I remember biting my inner cheeks when I was much younger; I think I switched to biting my tongue when I was around 10-15 years old.

I'll do it absentmindedly: while driving, watching a movie, and then five minutes later I'll notice that my tongue really hurts and I know that I've been doing it again.

Sometimes I'll focus on it, trying to find that perfect spot on my tongue for my teeth to grab. I'm not really conscious of the fact that I'm biting my tongue again but it's more like I'm just intensely focused on the precision of the practice.

Sometimes I'm able to catch myself doing it, and I stop. Sometimes I catch myself doing it and I just try harder to find that spot to bite. I'll do this until my tongue bleeds, until hot coffee and spicy salsa causes great pain in my mouth.

Is it a form of OCD? Is it a form of cutting/self mutilation? What's the best way to finally stop doing this to myself?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Fwiw I do it too. I suspect it's a genetic thing relating to the hind brain, and will be really difficult to stop without some heavy duty medication - i.e. the cure is worse than the disease. Mind you the difference for me is that I only do it during certain kinds of emotionally and physically intense situations and it's basically completely unconscious for me. Also I don't make it bleed but it does cause bruising sometimes.
posted by singingfish at 7:02 AM on October 4, 2007

I concur w/ singingfish. Can you work on realizing you're doing it and then distract someway? Like with gum? Maybe you can develop the hideous habit of cracking your gum. Awful, but better than chewing yourself raw. (Works best with chewing gum--bubble gum presents insufficient challenge.) Or find non-caloric things to chew on, like cloves or one of those African teeth cleaning stick thingies that were big in the nineties. I have the feeling it should be something kindof horrible and challenging--like just chewing on gum or doing something normal like eating Certs might be unsatisfying.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:12 AM on October 4, 2007

I tried to chew gum instead (I don't bite my tongue, rather the inside of my lip) and it worked for a while, then I got tired of chewing gum and went right back to it. If you figure out something else to chew on that won't eventually annoy you, I think that's probably the best way to address it.
posted by crinklebat at 7:16 AM on October 4, 2007

Yes, gum is annoying, plus you'd have to have it on you at all times. Hey, see if you can switch to biting your nails.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:34 AM on October 4, 2007

I do this, as does my dad, and my brother did as a child but stopped at some point. I've always wondered if it's genetic or whether we copied my father. For what it's worth, I don't have OCD, but my dad's been diagnosed with it and my brother has some OCD-like tendencies.

In general, I'd say it's not a big deal, but it worries me a little that you bite your tongue until it bleeds, because I've read that persistent mouth irritation puts you at higher risk for mouth cancer. Could you mention this to your dentist and see if there's some sort of mouth guard you could get? Or could you try to practice a gentler tongue-chewing technique? I don't think the issue here is so much that you're chewing as that you seem to be hurting yourself.

Otherwise, I don't know any way to stop chewing your tongue. It drove my mother crazy when I was a child, and I went to great lengths to try to stop but couldn't.
posted by craichead at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2007

I did this too when I was very young, until when I was six I bit my tongue off. No, really. Biting it off and having to have it sewn back on is the only remedy I know of, as it worked for me.

Of course I'm not recommending you do this, but there are further complications than being uncomfortable while eating something spicy.

Try sucking on a hard candies instead? Perhaps you just need something to distract your tongue.
posted by sephira at 8:05 AM on October 4, 2007

Isn't there a mental illness and/or developmental issue that includes this as a major symptom?

You may want to talk to a qualified mental health professional.
posted by GuyZero at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2007

The genetic illness where the kids do this is Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. Those kids are severely delayed mentally and have other health problems; they're not likely to be posting to Metafilter.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Could I take up smoking?

Thanks. Really.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2007

they're not likely to be posting to Metafilter.

Well, we'll leave the speculation about the level of intellectual development of MetaFilter posters for another time...

My point is just that, per the commenter that mentioned OCD, yes, it's not a huge deal, but if you're really doing it to the point of making yourself bleed then it soudns like something in the spectrum of OCD and there's probably something a psychologist could work with you to help reduce what's going on.

The OP asked what's the best way to stop it? Get some help.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on October 4, 2007

I had a different habit of clenching my teeth, but the cause I think might be similar which was complicated, but included the simple fact that my muscle was a little too strong in the jaw.

I switched to soft foods and tiny bites of firmer foods for two weeks. I just reduced the demand on those muscles and my clenching stopped. I wonder if that would work for your busy jaw, too.
posted by onanon at 11:06 AM on October 4, 2007

This may be crazy, but I'll throw it out there...

I've been googling, and I found a couple of sites that suggest that tongue and cheek chewing is associated with trichotillomania, which is when people compulsively pull out their hair. My father, who as I said is a tongue-chewer, has trichotillomania, and apparently it's common for people to have both behavior patterns. Do you think it's possible that methods to treat trichotillomania would also work for compulsive tongue-chewing? My sense is that there are a lot more doctors who treat compulsive hair-pulling than compulsive tongue-chewing.
posted by craichead at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ow, this poor kid. (Beware horrible pictures. He turns out okay in the end.)

From the above:
"Self-inflicted soft tissue damage has been reported to occur in children with congenital neurological disorders such as Lesch–Nyhan syndrome [3,4], Gilles de la Tourette syndrome [5] and infectious diseases such as encephalitis [6]. ... A number of treatment modalities have been advocated to treat self-inflicted oral injuries including drug therapy [7], tooth extraction [3,4], and orthognathic surgery to create an anterior open bite [8]. The different appliances that have been recommended include heat-cured splints with headgear worn 24 h a day [9], lower lip guards [10], soft vinyl mouth guards [11] and wirefixed acrylic splints [6]. Success in preventing selfinflicted oral injury has been reported with the use of heat-cured splints [6] and soft resin mouth guards [11]."

So maybe this splint idea that works for profoundly disordered children could be adapted to work for your much smaller problem--maybe you could be fitted with some kind of unobtrusive mouth guard thingamajig at the dentist's office? Plenty of adults get braces on their teeth and wear retainers. If anyone asked, you could say, "My dentist prescribed it. I have a disorder kindof like bruxism." Most people have heard of that and know someone who grinds their teeth; your thing is slightly different but not really any weirder. My experience with trichotillomania (or whatever is the name for the annoying brokebrain problem I have that compels me to occasionally gnaw on my cuticles and pick at calluses) is that if you can quit long enough for the affected area to heal so that it will stop sending your reptile brain little pain announcements ("Zing! Isn't it about time for a chaw?!"), you can quit attacking the affected area. (Last time I wore bandaids on my thumbs 'til they healed.) So if you did get fitted for a mouth guard you probably wouldn't have to wear it forever.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:54 PM on October 4, 2007

The New Yorker ran a harrowing article (.pdf) about Lesch-Nyhan syndrome last month. Towards the end, after a discussion of the sufferers who chew off their fingers and lips because they feel divorced from their body parts and compelled to attack them, someone theorizes that the disease represents the most extreme form of the commonplace compulsion to chew our cuticles or the insides of our mouths until they bleed. Not that any of this helps you stop biting your tongue. But maybe the additional perspective and understanding will help. Also, the article is simply amazing.
posted by hhc5 at 10:24 PM on October 4, 2007

I have researched oral habits particularly tongue chewing and tongue biting for over 20 years. I believe that I am the only source for this information so I posted a website at: I get hundreds of people signing in every month with some variation of this habit. I generally do not post on forums such as this because no two people are exactly alike and this problem is fairly complex and individual. While I have helped countless numbers of tongue chewers free of charge I do not post therapies or cures for the same reason. I have been a presenter at numerous professional study groups and conventions including the International Asso of Orofacial Myology. If you are looking for help with tongue chewing or tongue biting please visit my website, send an email or fill out the Survey and lets set up a time for a telephone interview, it will take about 45min to 1 hr. The rest is up to you.
posted by TongueChewer at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

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