When it comes to critical parts of the body, the mouth certainly sits near the top of the list. Given its many responsibilities, the tongue is an anatomical VIP: It plays a role in speaking, tasting, chewing and swallowing. Any tongue injury, especially a tongue laceration, may be a reason to visit your doctor.
Tongue injuries, including lacerations, often happen during car accidents, seizures, falls and contact sports injuries. The most common spot for a laceration on the tongue to occur is on the front two-thirds, notes the International Surgery Journal.
The tongue is a muscle surrounded by glands and encased in a moist membrane called a mucosa. The mouth's ample blood supply aids in healing mild cuts and tears, and mouth injuries rarely become infected, explains the International Surgery Journal.
Depending on the severity of the injury, a tongue laceration can be a deep gash or a partial flap. Any large cut on the tongue warrants immediate medical attention since stitches may be needed to make sure the tongue heals correctly. A deeply lacerated tongue can become infected or affect a person's ability to swallow, eat and speak.
Emergency Physicians Monthly lists a variety of tongue injuries that require an emergency room visit. Some of those include:
- A wound that flops open
- Large flaps of flesh
- Two wounds that cross each other
- A wound larger than 1/2 inch
- A wound that won't stop bleeding
Applying First Aid
The Australian Government Department of Health offers first aid instructions if a tongue laceration happens at home. Start by putting pressure on the wound using a clean cloth or gauze pad. You might have to hold the dressing in place with one hand since it can be challenging to secure one in the mouth.
Whatever you do, and no matter how heavy the blood flow is, don't stop applying pressure to the wound. The bleeding should stop within 15 minutes of constant pressure. Spit out any excess blood that pools in your mouth and do not swallow it. If the wound isn't bleeding, flush it with clean water. Tongue injuries can be traumatizing. Watch for symptoms of shock like cold or clammy skin, shallow breathing or a weak pulse. Seek immediate medical assistance for any of these symptoms.
Wound Protection and Pain Management
After a medical professional treats your tongue injury, keep an eye out for any swelling or excessive bleeding. Tongue sutures can rupture easily and cause a person to aspirate (or breathe in) blood, notes the Annals of Medicine and Surgery. Call your doctor if a tongue wound reopens or begins bleeding again after it is treated.
Most mild oral injuries, including cut tongues, can be cleaned with a salt water rinse or a diluted hydrogen peroxide rinse. Small puncture wounds to the tongue will usually heal on their own. A doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to patients with compromised immune systems or to those who sustained the tongue injury due to a jaw fracture, according to the Annals of Medicine and Surgery.
According to Emergency Physicians Monthly, tongue sutures frequently untie, fall out or absorb on their own, so going back to the doctor to remove them usually isn't necessary. Your provider may recommend a diet of soft foods for several days or prescribe an antiseptic mouthwash. If you're concerned about an injured tongue, don't hesitate to seek medical attention from a doctor or dentist.