A common trope in certain circles (like Eastern martial fiction), is someone committing quick suicide by biting his or her tongue. But is this really possible?

The internet turns up millions of pages of speculation, but no Straight Dope. People have been removing the tongues from mammals, and each other, throughout human history. There has to be some scientific data on this somewhere.

Will an untreated, severe, lingual laceration, really result in bleed-out of an otherwise healthy human?

Or will lingual trauma facilitate swallowing the tongue sufficiently to cause asphyxiation?

What does the science say?

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    $\begingroup$ generally untreated and severe laceration of any body part can is at risk of causing death. But according to this book the tongue tends to stop bleeding quickly (books.google.co.uk/…) $\endgroup$ – rg255 Feb 19 '13 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255: Excellent. This article says that Lingual artery hemorrhage is "life-threatening". Although it's reporting an injury caused by a botched biopsy. It's not at all clear (to me) that a sufficiently similar wound could be caused by a person's own teeth. $\endgroup$ – Brock Adams Feb 19 '13 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ I guess there is an element of "luck" if suicide is the intended outcome - it will likely depend on how hard one bites, how sharp the teeth are, and how many blood vessels one punctures severely (do not try this at home) $\endgroup$ – rg255 Feb 19 '13 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255, If it depends on hitting the artery with your teeth, it might not be anatomically possible. Hoping for some experts or citations to chime in. $\endgroup$ – Brock Adams Feb 19 '13 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Looking at the diagrams of tongue blood vessels it looks like the ranine artery runs a long way along the tongue, and if you hit enough other veins and arteries there's no reason to not expect a high enough bleeding rate $\endgroup$ – rg255 Feb 19 '13 at 15:03

I know of an ER doctor who had a patient who removed (by biting and pulling) every last part of her tongue, she survived that (although, her ability to speak was probably shot). The stump of her tongue clotted before she could even go into shock (at least where it was really serious).

Here is a quote from the book Angels in the ER (this is a paramedic speaking with the doc):

"Every bit of it. Gone. And the funny thing, Doc, is it didn't even bleed very much."
The doctor then asked his patient to open her mouth... "it was gone!"

It would certainly be possible to commit suicide doing this if one was a hemophiliac or continued to remove the clot from the hole(s) in their tongue (although the latter could be a potentially painful and I have a feeling that it would take a very, very long time!).

  • $\begingroup$ @BrockAdams I will get you a direct quote ASAP, right now I'm not at my house and don't have the book at my disposal. There are plenty of places you can get a PDF download, and it would be chapter 11. However, if you are willing to wait a day or two I can probably get you a quote. $\endgroup$ – L.B. May 26 '14 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @BrockAdams I edited my answer. $\endgroup$ – L.B. May 30 '14 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! Looks like a reputable counter-example. This answer will do unless an authoritative analysis or statistical result is posted. (Previous comments are now obsolete.) $\endgroup$ – Brock Adams May 30 '14 at 3:52

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