6 Common Tongue Problems
Oral Health Bible
Book by Michael Bonner and Earl Mindell / Format: Paperback
Amazon Price: $7.57
List Price: $14.95
Tongue Pain and Soreness
Is your tongue swollen, sore, or painful? Has it recently changed in size, color, or appearance? Is it causing you discomfort or frustration? You're not alone.
Tongue problems are relatively common, and they have many causes. They usually result from minor infections or injuries, like a bitten tongue. Most irritations are harmless and resolve quickly on their own.
Sometimes, however, tongue problems can indicate a serious medical condition such as a vitamin deficiency, oral cancer, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). For this reason, you should see a doctor or dentist whenever you experience ongoing tongue problems or pain.
Your Tongue's Anatomy
You may think of your tongue as a single muscle. Some call it "the strongest muscle in the body." But your tongue is actually a group of muscles that allows you to taste, chew, and swallow food. The muscles also help you form words so you can talk.
Your tongue contains a moist tissue lining or mucus membrane. Small nodules called papillae cover the upper surface. Your taste buds -- which number about 9,000 -- are scattered between the papillae.
A healthy tongue is smooth, moist, and pink. Many things can change its appearance and function. Discoloration, soreness and pain may relate to the tongue itself, or they may signify other health problems. This article examines six common tongue problems and their likely causes.
Burning Tongue Syndrome
Book by John Smith / Format: Paperback
Amazon Price: $14.82
List Price: $19.37
1. Sore Tongue
Is your tongue sore or painful? Many factors can contribute to tongue pain and soreness, including trauma. Biting your tongue, or scalding it on a hot food or beverage, is a common trauma.
Inflamed taste buds can cause tiny bumps to form along your tongue, causing soreness. Habitual teeth grinding is another contributor to tongue pain.
Do you smoke cigarettes? Excessive smoking can cause numerous mouth conditions and other health problems.
Stress also affects the tongue. You may have painful canker sores in your mouth. The cause of these ulcers is unclear, but stress can worsen the condition.
Tongue soreness may also be a sign of anemia, diabetes, and other health conditions.
Menopause can cause some women to experience burning tongue syndrome, sometimes called burning mouth syndrome. This condition involves painful, burning sensations that affect the tongue, gums, lips, cheeks, and roof of the mouth.
Chronic soreness and painful lumps may indicate oral cancer. As with all cancers, early detection is important for successful treatment. Ask your doctor or dentist for an oral cancer screening if you notice any of the early warning signs, including persistent tongue problems.
2. Strawberry Tongue
A strawberry tongue is named for the appearance of large taste buds dotting the tongue's surface. Many things can transform a healthy, pink tongue into a bright, red tongue that resembles a strawberry. A vitamin deficiency is the most common cause.
Your tongue may look red if your body is not getting enough vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B12 (cobalamin) or other B complex vitamins. These nutrients help your body convert carbohydrates and other foods into energy.
Kawasaki syndrome, a rare childhood disease that affects the blood vessels, gives young children a strawberry tongue and red skin rashes. While these symptoms may scare parents, they can be treated with medications.
Scarlet fever, a once-feared childhood illness, also produces a strawberry tongue. Scarlet fever is uncommon today, and antibiotics can treat this high fever and streptococcal infection.
3. White Tongue
Does your tongue have white spots or a white coating? Many things can cause a white tongue, from yeast infections to medications to conditions like leukoplakia.
Leukoplakia causes excessive cell growth in the mouth, causing white patches on the tongue. The condition is common in tobacco users. While it is not dangerous on its own, leukoplakia can be a precursor to oral cancer.
Candidiasis, commonly called oral thrush, is a yeast infection that causes white patches with a "cottage cheese" consistency. Oral thrush usually appears in babies and elderly adults. It may also affect people with diabetes, asthma, and lung disease.
Oral lichen planus is another condition that turns the tongue white. It causes raised or lace-like white lines on the tongue. The cause is not always known, but tobacco use and poor dental hygiene contribute to its development.
4. Yellow Tongue
Does your tongue have a hint of yellow on the surface? Yellow tongue is usually a harmless and temporary problem. It is often an early sign of black, hairy tongue.
Sometimes, a yellow tongue indicates jaundice, a skin-yellowing condition that signifies a liver or gallbladder problem.
A yellow tongue results from changes to the papillae on the tongue's surface. The enlarged nodes combine with mouth bacteria to produce yellow pigments on the tongue. Good oral hygiene is the best treatment.
5. Black, Hairy Tongue
Black, hairy tongue is another harmless condition, despite its startling appearance. The tongue's papillae grow throughout life. Daily mouth activities wear them down and keep them short.
Some tongues, however, have long papillae that normal activities cannot wear down. The overgrown nodes are more likely to harbor bacteria. Bacterial growth combined with excessively long papillae give the tongue a dark, hair-like appearance.
Tobacco products, antibiotic medications, and chemotherapy drugs contribute to black, hairy tongue. The problem is most common in people who don't practice good oral hygiene. Self-care usually resolves it without medical treatment.
6. Geographic Tongue
Is your tongue missing some papillae? Does it have smooth, red patches with raised borders? You may have geographic tongue.
Geographic tongue is named for its map-like appearance. As one patch or lesion heals, the problem moves to a different area of the tongue. As a result, the tongue's "landscape" frequently changes.
A geographic tongue may be sensitive to certain substances, but the condition is harmless. It is not linked to infection or cancer. Doctors think genetics may play a role in its development.
Geographic tongue may persist for months or even years, but it eventually resolves on its own.
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- National Institutes of Health. (February 20, 2012). "Tongue Disorders." National Library of Medicine / Medline Plus. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
- UMMC. (2012). "Tongue Problems Overview." University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
- Wyatt, Alfred D. Jr. (March 7, 2011). "Tongue Problem Basics." WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
Health / Medical Disclaimer
The information presented on this website is not intended as specific medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.
Copyright © 2012. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: May 1, 2012 / Modified: May 7, 2013.
What Does Your Tongue Say About Your Overall Health?
Your Turn: Tell Us What You Think
You're reading 6 Common Tongue Problems, by Annette R. Smith. Please leave a comment and tell us what you think. Then share the article with your family and friends.
To read more by this author, visit her profile page for the latest, hottest, and best. Or sign up for HubPages to publish your own material. It's fun, it's FREE, and you can even earn money along the way.
This Hub was last updated on May 7, 2013
You can help the HubPages community highlight top quality content by ranking this article up or down.