Tongue problems include a variety of symptoms, from pain to changes in color and texture, that can have many different causes.
Though often hailed as “the strongest muscle in the body,” the tongue is made up of a group of muscles that allow us to taste food, swallow, and talk. A healthy tongue is pink and covered with small nodules called papillae.
Because you use your tongue all the time, tongue problems can be frustrating and uncomfortable.
Symptoms of Tongue Problems
Different causes of tongue problems have different symptoms. You might have:
- Discoloration, ranging from white to black
- Texture changes
- Burning sensation
Causes of tongue problemsThe specific symptoms you’re experiencing will help your doctor identify the cause of your tongue problem.
Causes of a change in tongue color
A bright pink color on the tongue is most often due to a deficiency in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B-12. An allergic reaction to gluten can also cause this.
A white tongue is usually a result of smoking, drinking alcohol or poor oral hygiene. White lines or bumps may be an inflammation called oral lichen planus. People think this occurs due to an abnormal immune response that may occur from an underlying condition, such as hepatitis C or allergies.
Causes of a burning sensation on the tongueA burning sensation on the tongue may occur in women who are postmenopausal. It can also occur due to exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke.
Causes of tongue pain
Tongue pain usually occurs due to an injury or infection. If you bite your tongue, you may develop a sore that can last for days and be very painful. A minor infection on the tongue isn’t uncommon, and it can cause pain and irritation. Inflamed papillae, or taste buds, are small, painful bumps that appear after an injury from a bite or irritation from hot foods.
A canker sore is another common cause of pain on or under the tongue. This is a small, white or yellow sore that can occur for no apparent reason. Canker sores, unlike cold sores, don’t occur due to the herpes virus. Some possible causes are mouth injuries, abrasive ingredients in toothpastes or mouthwashes, food allergies or nutritional deficiencies. In many cases, the cause of a canker sore is unknown and referred to as an aphthous ulcer. These sores usually go away without any treatment.
Other, less common reasons for tongue pain include cancer, anemia, oral herpes, and irritating dentures or braces.
Neuralgia can also be a source of tongue pain. This is a very severe pain that occurs along a damaged nerve. Neuralgia occurs for no obvious reason, or it can occur due to:
- multiple sclerosis
Causes of tongue swelling
A swollen tongue may be a symptom of a disease or medical condition, such as:
- an overactive thyroid
- strep throat
- Down syndrome
- tongue cancer
- Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
When the tongue swells very suddenly, the likely reason is an allergic reaction. This can result in difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing due to tongue swelling is a medical emergency. If this occurs, you should get medical help right away.
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Home treatment for tongue problems
Treatments for tongue problems vary depending on their cause. Some problems go away by themselves. If you have an underlying health condition, treating that can improve your symptoms.
You can prevent or relieve some tongue problems by practicing good dental hygiene. Brush and floss regularly, and see your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings.
Remedy for canker sores or sores due to mouth injury
If you have a canker sore or a sore that occurs due to a mouth injury, you should do the following:
- You can rinse your mouth with warm saltwater or a mixture of warm water and baking soda.
- You can ice the sore.
- Avoid hot and spicy foods.
- Try to drink only cold beverages and eat only bland, soft foods until the sore has healed.
- You may also try OTC oral pain treatments.
Cancer treatment can range from surgery to radiation and chemotherapy or drug therapy.
Because some tongue problems can be linked to poor oral health, it’s important to take care of your mouth and teeth. Brush and floss regularly and use a tongue scraper to remove bacteria and other particles. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.