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What Is Tongue Swallowing?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Tongue swallowing is a commonly believed myth. It typically refers to the notion that a person having a seizure could possibly swallow his tongue. This often resulted in objects being inserted into their mouths to prevent this. Many people today, however, understand it is physically impossible to swallow your tongue.

During a seizure, if lying on his back, a person may open his mouth and gasp for air. Other individuals who witness this may notice that the sufferer's tongue may roll back toward his throat. This may even look as though the sufferer is swallowing his own tongue, or tongue swallowing.

Although many doctors have tried to dispel this myth, some people still believe tongue swallowing may happen during a seizure. In reality, it is physically impossible for an individual to swallow his tongue, even if he is having a seizure. A thin piece of tissue located just under the tongue, known as the frenulum linguae, prevents this from happening. This tissue connects the bottom of the tongue to the base of the mouth just behind the bottom teeth.

Years ago, most people believed in tongue swallowing. To prevent a person who was having a seizure from choking, all sorts of object would be inserted into his mouth. this could include such things as wallets, metal utensils, and sticks.

Inserting these types of things into a person's mouth during a seizure often caused more harm than good. For example, because a person may clench, or bite down, when having a seizure, there is a possibility that he could break off a piece of the object in his mouth. This may then become lodged in his throat, choking him. Harder objects, like the aforementioned metal utensils could also cause chipped teeth, or other damage inside the mouth.

While tongue swallowing is impossible, it is not uncommon for a person having a seizure to bite his tongue. Despite this, if a person is having a seizure, nothing should ever be inserted into his mouth. Along with objects, this includes fingers, which could be seriously injured.

Instead, the person should be placed on his side, and any tight clothing, especially collars, should be loosened. During a convulsive seizure, or grand mal seizure, any objects around the person should be moved, if possible. Contrary to popular belief, a person having this type of seizure should never be held down, since it could cause injuries. Bystanders should keep track of how long the seizure lasts and stay with the sufferer until the episode passes. Emergency medical attention is usually recommended if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, if the sufferer was injured, or if he has never had a seizure before.

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Discussion Comments

By RoyalSpyder — On Feb 22, 2014

Although seizures and numbness do a raise a chance of something happening, when you're well and awake, I find that tongue swallowing is impossible. Not only is our tongue very long, but in order to swallow it, we'd literally have to push it all the way into the back of out throat. Overall, I've come to the conclusion that unless it involves seizures or some form of surgery, it's all a complete myth.

By Chmander — On Feb 21, 2014

I've never heard of anyone swallowing their tongue before, but I have heard that it can happen during wisdom tooth surgery. One time, a friend was telling me that when you're put to sleep, the reason why they don't numb all the areas of your mouth is because it's possible for you to bite your tongue and swallow it. Honestly, it sounds very farfetched.

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