Some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) find that they repeatedly bite their tongue, lips, or cheeks. It may come as a surprise that this symptom can be related to MS. As one MyMSTeam member wrote: “I thought I was alone! Seriously!!!! I never talk about this to anyone!! It’s an MS monster? I’m so glad I’m not alone.”
Here’s what you need to know about accidentally biting your tongue or mouth, how it is related to MS, and what you can do about it.
Many MyMSTeam members have struggled with biting their tongues as well as their lips and cheeks. “It seems lately that I am always biting my lips, cheeks, and tongue,” one member wrote. Another added, “Biting my tongue happens more than I care to mention, but I never thought that it was another MS symptom.”
For some people, this shows up specifically related to other activities, like eating or talking. One member shared, “For the past six months on and off, I’ve been biting my tongue, mainly on the right side or inside of my cheek. This only happens when I am talking.” Another wrote that she has “always had a problem biting my tongue when eating.” This member added that her symptoms have progressed, noting, “The past two days, it has been happening when I am not eating, but talking or just doing nothing.”
Some members even write that emotional situations can cause cheek biting. “I’ve been biting my inside cheeks on and off for the last few months, especially when I get flustered. I’m sure it’s because of MS.”
Some members find that biting their tongues and mouths comes before other oral or throat-related symptoms. As one shared, “I bite the inside of my mouth a lot. It progressed to the loss of my gag reflex and difficulty swallowing.”
There are several ways of dealing with this — some involve changing the way you eat. As one caregiver of a person with MS wrote, “She bites her tongue a lot. Sometimes, when we are just sitting, she makes chewing noises. She has to be really careful when she eats, and we try to eat soft foods.”
Occasionally, the biting gets bad enough that other medical procedures become necessary. “I have been biting my tongue on my left side on the same spot over and over again,” a member wrote. “The dentist wants me to have oral surgery to get a biopsy of the now-hardened area to check for oral cancer.”
When the immune system attacks the myelin coating on the nerves along your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord), it leaves lesions. A lesion is an area of tissue that has been damaged through injury or disease. These lesions make it harder for the nerves to send messages to the brain effectively, causing symptoms like double vision, fatigue, or physical impairment. When lesions develop on the part of the brain that controls your mouth or face, symptoms like tongue, cheek, or mouth biting can occur.
MS can cause numbness in various parts of the body, including the face and mouth. Although it’s not the first symptom of MS that comes to mind, many people on MyMSTeam experience numbness. One said, “The big problem is I feel numb on the inside of my mouth on the left side only.” Another added, “The left side of my face is droopy and numb.”
Numbness does not always lead to biting, but it’s one way that MS can cause this symptom.
More often, biting the mouth and tongue with MS is related to weakness in the cheeks, lips, and throat. This weakness can lead to trouble swallowing, called dysphagia, and can make it more difficult to control your tongue. Dysphagia is one of the more common symptoms of MS, especially as it progresses.
One member described this symptom, writing, “It’s like my tongue has a different idea of what to do.” Another member associated problems swallowing with biting her mouth, adding, “I started biting my tongue and cheek and was wondering if it was due to MS. I have trouble swallowing too, so I just figured this was part of the MS.”
Swallowing problems can lead to other difficulties, including trouble eating, difficulty swallowing pills and taking medications, aspiration, and slurred speech. It’s important to treat these issues as soon as they arise, so you should reach out to a neurological expert or an oral health specialist if you find yourself biting your mouth a lot.
People with MS may bite their tongues for reasons unrelated to MS. There are many potential causes of tongue biting. It can be a habit associated with psychological problems, epilepsy (epileptic seizures), oral cancer, problems with your bite, stress, and more.
If you are biting your tongue or mouth more than usual, consult with your neurologist and possibly a dentist, too. These specialists will be able to determine the cause and work with you to find the right way of managing it.
If your tongue biting is caused by MS, there are a few things you can do. Ask your health care professional for medical advice about which options might be best for you, given the current state of your MS, the medications you’re taking for it, and more.
Making changes to how you eat can reduce the frequency with which you bite your tongue, whether the symptom is caused by numbness or swallowing problems. Slowing down, focusing all your attention on eating, consuming softer foods, sitting upright while eating, and clearing your mouth before taking another bite could reduce the number of times you bite your mouth.
Our members have found that these methods work. “Slow eating and not TALKING when eating, which for me is difficult, helps a lot,” wrote one. Another shared, “I remembered something else that helps … eating soft foods. Yogurt, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, and smoothies (to name a few).”
If your tongue biting is caused by numbness, your doctor may recommend that you try swallowing therapy. This type of therapy is best for people who have enough time and energy to dedicate to fixing the problem. A speech and language pathologist will work with you to help you swallow more efficiently, strengthen your esophagus (the tube connecting the throat to the stomach), and keep your tongue positioned correctly in your mouth.
One MyMSTeam member recommended swallowing therapy. “Try to see a speech therapist,” they wrote. “They will check the strength of your throat and swallow muscles. A speech therapist may be able to help you strengthen or give you exercise to work on coordination.”
Surgery is sometimes necessary if you bite your tongue or mouth so often that you suffer permanent damage, like lesions or ulcers that won’t heal. The procedure is usually done via laser.
One member who developed a lesion explained, “I’m having a problem with biting my lower lip. I have a permanent lesion. I am going to see an oral surgeon who uses a laser to remove it.”
Another added, “I previously was biting my cheek inside my mouth. It got so thick I couldn’t talk or eat without biting it. I had to have an oral surgeon shave it down. There is a scar from it.”
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 186,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Do you struggle with biting your tongue or mouth because of MS? Are you wondering how you can manage this to avoid pain and surgery? Share your story or thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyMSTeam.
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