How to Safely Deal with a Cut on Your Tongue
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Table of Contents
- How Does it Happen?
- Pain & Complications
- Treating the Cut
- When to See a Doctor
- Healing Time
Tongue injuries are a common part of everyday life. We accidentally bite our tongue while we eat or sleep. Or we are involved in some kind of accident that causes us to bite our tongue.
As long as bleeding is under control and pain is not debilitating, treating and caring for cuts is routine.
Occasionally, lacerations are deep or long (or both), injuries that require emergency treatment.
How Do People Cut Their Tongues?
Cuts to the tongue are almost always accidental, with the major exception of having your tongue pierced. They are usually self-inflicted (biting your tongue while eating or during a seizure), although it is possible to incur a cut during a dental or medical procedure or because of dental hardware placed inside the mouth.
Cuts also stem from falls and from collisions, such as while playing sports, while driving or riding in a vehicle or while riding a bike.
Most tongue lacerations are minor. They bleed for a little bit, but with a compress and a little bit of time, the bleeding stops and the healing starts.
Cuts that result from impact injuries can be more serious—deeper and longer—and require a sense of urgency when it comes treatment. These cuts are often intensely painful and make it difficult to staunch the bleeding. This means an emergency visit to the doctor and possibly stitches and antibiotic salves and ointments.
Pain and Complications
Anyone who has experienced a cut on their tongue knows the discomfort that comes with it. One can barely open their mouth, leave alone eat something.
However, there are some measures you can take to minimize the pain. They include over-the-counter pain medications, prescription drugs and an altered diet that features soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow.
In addition, a dry mouth can cause pain and soreness. Drink eight to 10 ounces of water a day to ward off a dry mouth and to prevent mouth odor. If necessary, use a straw to let the water bypass your cut.
Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen, is an over-the-counter drug that can give you short-term pain relief. Some options, particularly aspirin, should be avoided as they can promote bleeding.
When the bleeding stops, you can use an antibiotic cream designed specifically for oral sores. Some have numbing effects that can help counter the pain.
With the recent national concerns about the overprescribing strong pain medications, physicians tend to point toward over-the-counter drug options. But when confronted by a severely lacerated tongue, stronger prescription medications may be options.
In addition to drugs, eat soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow to reduce pain and speed up the recovery process.
Examples of soft foods to incorporate into your diet include:
- Soups and stews (but avoid eating them when they are piping hot)
- Creamy nut butter
When preparing your meals, make them easier to eat: cut them into small pieces or use a food processor or a blender to puree foods.
Make sure the meals are well-cooked until they are tender and soft. Avoid eating raw foods with tough skins and shy away from salty, spicy, and other irritating foods and beverages that can cause pain on the cut.
Treating A Cut on Your Tongue
Since tongue injuries can happen unexpectedly, it’s best to understand how to deal with the problem safely. You must know how to control and stop the bleeding before anything else.
Control the Bleeding
A cut on your tongue will often bleed a lot due to the ample blood supply in the area. So the first thing to do is to try and stop the bleeding. To avoid infections:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands.
- If possible, wear a pair of disposable latex gloves before attending to the cut.
Next, rinse the tongue with lukewarm water for a few seconds. This helps clear away blood or debris in or on the tongue while identifying the injury site.
Use a clean bandage or towel to apply slight pressure on the cut until the blood slows down or stops. If bleeding persists, use ice to help.
Wrap several ice cubes in a piece of cloth and hold it on the cut for a few seconds. This will help constrict blood vessels and tend to slow down the bleeding. Ice will also help with any pain.
When to See a Doctor
If the cut continues bleeding despite the pressure and ice, it’s time to seek medical attention from an urgent care near you. If you don’t have an urgent care facility nearby or if you judge the laceration as a major cut, a trip to the emergency room may be in order.
Carry all the bandages or towels used to help the doctor determine the amount of blood lost.
Generally speaking, seek medical attention if:
- The cut is too deep
- Bleeding continues after 10 minutes
- The cut is more than half an inch
- The cut is a result of a human/animal bite, rusty metal, or puncture
- The edges are craggy and curvy
- There is some debris that you are unable to clear
- There are signs of infection such as discoloration, draining fluid, redness, or it feels warm to touch
The cut on your tongue will heal depending on how well you take care of it. Rinse the tongue with a non-alcoholic mouthwash at least twice per day to prevent infection, kill bacteria and promote healing. Do not use alcoholic mouthwashes as they will cause pain and discomfort on the tongue.
Also avoid eating spicy foods and citrus fruits and drinks.
Raw garlic is also good to help prevent infections, but do not eat raw garlic while the wound is fresh. If the garlic irritates the cut, stop eating it.
If you don’t have a non-alcoholic mouthwash, use salt water to gargle. Mix a small portion of salt with warm water and gargle it two times a day. A medical saline solution is an excellent alternative to saltwater.
Use aloe vera gel on and around the cut on your tongue to soothe pain and discomfort and promote a speedy recovery.
You can also incorporate food that are rich in vitamin C, such as mangoes and grapes, in your diet to promote healing.
How Long Will It Take to Heal?
Healing time for tongue cuts depends on the severity of the laceration and how radical the treatment is.
If stitches are needed to close the wound, healing can be measured in weeks.
If no emergency care is needed, cuts to the tongue can heal in a few days.
All healing also depends on how well you care for your tongue after treatment.
Preventing Future Cuts
Though accidents happen, there are certain ways you can prevent oral cuts; they include;
- Chew gently and slowly to avoid biting your tongue
- Take care of braces by following all the safety instructions from a professional
- Do not run or exercise when holding sharp objects
- Do not use your mouth to open bottles or packages
- Do not chew on fingernails, pencils, or pens
- Use a mouthguard anytime you play contact sports.
Tongue cuts and other mouth injuries are common in both children and adults. In some cases, the cuts will heal on their own, only if you promote the healing. Deep and long cuts will require medical attention. Above all, take care of yourself to avoid mouth and tongue injuries.
Tongue Injury: Care Instructions. (October 19, 2020). Kaiser Permanente.
Mouth and Tongue Cuts. (December 2019). Health Direct.
Stop Bleeding with a Teabag. (January 15, 2018). D. Banfield. The Tea Journey.
How to Treat Wounds, Scrapes and Cuts. (June 22, 2018). M. Mann. Wexler Medical Center, Ohio State University.
First Aid for Bites or Cuts to a Child’s Tongue or Lip. (September 30, 2019.) HealthyChildren.org.
How to Stop a Bleeding Tongue: Causes and Treatments for Tongue Injury. (April 23, 2020). O. Adereyko. Flo.