Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes your immune system to attack tissues in the central nervous system (CNS), which can affect a number of processes in the body. MS attacks cause lesions to form in your nervous system, and the symptoms you experience are based, in part, on where those lesions develop.
Some people with MS experience involuntarily biting their tongue. One MyMSTeam member said, “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.” The member wondered whether it might be MS-related.
“I thought I was alone! Seriously!!!!” wrote another member when learning others with MS experienced inadvertent tongue-biting. “I never talk about this to anyone!! It’s an MS monster? I’m so glad I’m not alone.”
Understanding your symptoms and how to manage them can help you live better with MS, improving your quality of life, mental health, and overall sense of wellness. The following can help you evaluate the causes and solutions to tongue-biting with MS.
If people with MS bite their tongues more than usual, it often has to do with the way MS lesions affect the brain and CNS. In MS, the immune system attacks the CNS, slowly stripping away myelin, the protective coating that covers the nerves. This causes nerve damage, referred to as plaques or lesions.
When these lesions occur in parts of the brain that control the mouth, tongue, teeth, esophagus, or throat, you may end up biting your tongue more frequently.
Following are some of the specific symptoms of MS that may cause people with MS to bite their tongues — or other parts of their mouths — more frequently.
One of the possible causes is dysphagia, a term that describes problems with swallowing. Some people with MS struggle to swallow anything at all, while others have problems only under certain circumstances. Since the tongue is key to the swallowing process, dysphagia often involves weakness or motor control issues in the tongue.
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 their 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.”
Other possible symptoms of dysphagia include:
If you have any trouble swallowing along with biting your mouth or tongue, talk to your doctor right away to get medical advice that might help you manage the symptoms of dysphagia.
Dysarthria is another potential cause of tongue-biting. Dysarthria refers to motor problems that cause issues with your speech, and it can occur in people diagnosed with MS. Since the tongue is a key to speaking, motor problems that lead to dysarthria could also cause you to bite your tongue regularly.
If MS has caused damage to your mouth or tongue, you may also experience specific speech problems. These include:
MS can cause various parts of your body to be numb, including your mouth, tongue, and face. One member 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.”
Oral and facial numbness increase your likelihood of biting your tongue, especially if you don’t notice the numbness or if your face is not entirely numb. This is similar to what happens after the dentist numbs your mouth during a procedure.
People living with MS can have problems with tongue biting that aren’t connected to their MS. Talk to your doctor to rule out other possible causes of tongue biting, including:
“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.”
You should always approach your doctor when you develop new or suspected symptoms. They can help evaluate your current treatment regimen to decide if you want to stay on it or try something else that might work better for you. They can also help you come up with a plan to control any symptoms you might be experiencing.
There are a few steps you can take to avoid or reduce tongue-biting. Not all of these will work for everyone, but you find one or more will help.
If you slow down your eating and your talking, you may be less likely to bite your tongue. Staying mindful of the way your mouth is moving may help you avoid injuring yourself with your teeth.
If eating or drinking causes you to bite your tongue, you can try:
Some MyMSTeam members swear by these tips. “Slow eating and not TALKING when eating, which for me is difficult, helps a lot,” one shared. Another shared, “I remembered something else that helps … eating soft foods. Yogurt, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, and smoothies (to name a few).”
Although you may enjoy meal-time conversations, avoiding them may help you feel better in the long run.
Some people find that adjusting their posture makes a big difference. Sitting and standing up straight may help you engage the muscles you need to use in order to avoid biting your tongue. Even if some muscles have been damaged or weakened by MS, maintaining good posture can help you utilize any retained muscle tone to your best advantage.
You can strengthen the muscles of your mouth, tongue, and throat the same way you can strengthen any other muscles. Physical therapists know how to help you do this. If you struggle with swallowing, then swallowing therapy may help you with those issues and with biting your tongue less frequently. You will likely be given swallowing strengthening exercises, which you can do at home and which will keep those muscles in good shape.
Some MyMSTeam members have also been helped by speech and language pathologists, who work specifically with the muscles you use to talk. “Try to see a speech therapist,” one member advised. “They will check the strength of your throat and swallow muscles. A speech therapist may be able to help you strengthen them, or give you exercises to work on coordination.”
Together with your neurologist, you can figure out which of these treatment options you want to try first and then evaluate how effective the treatment is for you.
MyMSTeam is the online social network for people diagnosed with MS and those who love them. Here, more than 193,000 members have found a place where they can safely share about the condition and meet others who live with it every day.
Do you bite your tongue regularly? Do you struggle with other mouth and throat motor problems related to MS? You can talk about your experiences with these issues and ask any questions you might have on MyMSTeam.