Kids jump and fall and run and climb and play – and it’s not unusual for me to get called when one of their tongues happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between chomping teeth. Ouch!
A tongue bite can bleed a lot and look terrible, but still heal on its own fast – or it may need emergency repair.
Things to Consider
The rich blood supply to the tongue enables it’s activity and rapid healing when damaged. Certain bites are most likely to need stitches:
- Goes through tongue from the top to the bottom
- Rips an edge of the tongue
- Splits the front of the tongue
- Gash longer than 1 cm
- Missing chunk of tongue
- Ongoing bleeding
Also be aware of possible problems apart from the bite:
- A possible foreign body in the mouth
- Damaged or loose teeth
- Injured jaw
- Swelling of the tongue
7 Things to Do
- Consider it an emergency if tongue swelling or bleeding might get in the way of breathing or swallowing.
- Contact your doctor or dentist right away if it’s a bite that might need stitches, or of the tetanus shots might not be up to date. If you’re not certain about either, get in touch. I would absolutely want my own patients to do this.
- I scream for ice cream! Avoid eating or drinking just before or after anesthesia (if needed), but otherwise, a soft diet for the next few days feels better and allows for easier healing. And go for the cold! Sucking on ice chips, popsicles or ice cream can be soothing.
- Drink water or rinse with water after eating while there is an open wound.
- Consider an oral pain reliever if the child seems uncomfortable.
- Revisit within 24-48 hours to reassess.
- In the meantime, be alert for signs of infections or other complications, such as fever, swelling, or increasing pain.
Things to Learn
Parents are often amazed to watch how fast a bitten tongue heals. It’s a sped-up, time-lapse, visible example of an important underlying principle: Kids’ bodies are designed to repair damage.
Our job as parents (and doctors) is to remove obstacles to healing, support the healing process as needed, and to provide comfort along the way.
This is true even with emergency care. And remember, it’s not the stitches that heal the tongue; they just hold it in position so it can heal itself.