Can be a painful but otherwise harmless irritation or, in some cases, a critically important symptom — depending on the underlying cause:
- It sometimes results from toothgrinding (bruxism: described below). In some instances, it may be an extension in sleep of a nervous habit of chewing/ clenching of the teeth when awake or drowsy.
- Mechanical factors may explain its occurrence: for example, a large tongue or damaged teeth with sharp edges.
- Sleep apnea may precipitate this problem — when patients “catch” their tongues or cheeks during violent, gasping efforts to breathe.
- It also can represent the consequence (and occasionally, the only obvious symptom) of sleep-related seizures.