Why Do We Accidentally Bite Our Own Tongues?

Short answer: It’s a screw-up in the system.


Everyone accidentally bites their own tongue from time to time, which is totally ridiculous when you think about it. In terms of your body’s awareness of itself and the space it takes up, it’s like accidentally punching yourself in the head (which, if I’m being honest, has been known to happen).

Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain succinctly points out the absurdity of biting our own tongues thusly: “If we were truly created by God, then why do we still occasionally bite the insides of our own mouth?” he asks, rhetorically. “I was so eager to eat that plate of pasta, I’ve eaten through my own face.”

Been there!

But seriously, shouldn’t our highly-evolved human bodies have some sort of built-in failsafe to prevent us from clumsily clamping down on our own mouth organs? Well actually, they do.

In 2014, researchers at Duke University used a “sophisticated tracing technique” on the brains of mice to better understand how human brains coordinate the movements of the muscles in our jaws and tongues while chewing. While it’s all quite complex, they basically found that a group of premotor neurons and motoneurons work together to regulate jaw opening and tongue protrusion, while only motoneurons act to close the jaw and retract the tongue.

In simpler terms, the neurons in our brains coordinate the movements of our jaws and tongues to prevent us from making a meal of ourselves. But when they short-circuit, which sometimes happens, we accidentally end up biting our own tongues.

We hope this helps you next time you’re bellowing in agony through a mouthful of sandwich.