Tongue Bumps: Enlarged Papillae and Other Problems

Tongue Bumps: Enlarged Papillae and Other Problems



  1. Lie bumps are little red or white bumps on the tongue. They may form due to stress, hormones, or particular foods.
  2. Canker sores are another form of tongue bumps. They typically get better within 10 days without treatment.
  3. Most bumps on the tongue aren’t serious, but some may be cancerous.

Fungiform papillae are the small bumps located on the top and sides of your tongue. They’re the same color as the rest of your tongue and, under normal circumstances, are unnoticeable. They give your tongue a rough texture, which helps you eat. They also contain taste buds and temperature sensors.

Papillae can become enlarged for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, these reasons aren’t serious. See your doctor if the bumps are persistent, are growing or spreading, or are making it hard to eat.

Lie bumps (transient lingual papillitis)

About half of us experience lie bumps at some point. These little white or red bumps form when papillae become irritated and slightly swollen. It’s not always clear why this happens, but it may be related to stress, hormones, or particular foods. Although they can be uncomfortable, lie bumps aren’t serious and usually clear up without treatment and within a few days. However, the bumps can recur.

Eruptive lingual papillitis is most common among children and is likely contagious. It can be accompanied by fever and swollen glands. It is sometimes associated with a viral infection. It generally doesn’t require treatment and clears up within two weeks, but it can recur. Saltwater rinses or cold, smooth foods may provide some relief.

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers)

Canker sores can occur anywhere in the mouth, including under the tongue. The cause of these painful, red sores is unknown. Fortunately, they aren’t contagious. Over-the-counter pain relievers may ease symptoms. Canker sores usually get better within 10 days and without treatment. See your doctor if they’re persistent, are accompanied by fever, or are so bad that you can’t eat or drink. Prescription-strength topical treatments may help.

Learn more about canker sores »

Squamous papilloma

Squamous papilloma is associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). It’s usually a lone, irregularly shaped bump that can be treated surgically or with laser ablation. There’s no treatment for HPV, but individual symptoms can be addressed.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It usually begins with a small, painless sore that’s easy to dismiss. The initial sore is followed by a rash. More sores come and go as the disease progresses. In the early stages, syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics. During the secondary stages, sores may appear in the mouth and on the tongue. These sores can lead to serious complications, and even death, if left untreated.

Learn more about syphilis »

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever can result in “strawberry tongue.” This condition leaves the tongue red, bumpy, and swollen. This bacterial infection can also cause skin rash and fever. Scarlet fever is usually mild and can be treated with antibiotics. Rare complications include pneumonia, rheumatic fever, and kidney disease. Scarlet fever is very contagious so it should be taken seriously.

Learn more about scarlet fever »

Traumatic fibroma

Traumatic fibroma is a smooth, pink tongue growth caused by chronic irritation. It’s difficult to diagnose, so a biopsy is usually necessary. The growth can be surgically removed, if necessary.

Lymphoepithelial Cysts

These soft yellow cysts usually appear underneath the tongue. Their cause isn’t clear. The cysts are benign and can be surgically removed.


Glossitis is when inflammation makes your tongue appear smooth rather than bumpy. It may be the result of a variety of causes, including an allergic reaction, smoking and other irritants, or infection. Treatment depends on the cause. See your doctor if glossitis is persistent or recurring.

Learn more about glossitis »

Mouth Cancer

Most bumps on the tongue aren’t serious, but some are cancerous. Cancerous bumps usually appear on the sides of the tongue rather than on the top. The most common type of cancer to develop on the tongue is squamous cell carcinoma.

Oral tongue cancer appears on the front part of the tongue. The lump may be gray, pink, or red. Touching it may cause bleeding.

Cancer can also occur at the back, or base, of the tongue. It may be harder to detect, especially because there’s no pain at first. It may become painful as it progresses.

If cancer is suspected, your doctor will probably take a tissue sample for examination under a microscope (biopsy). Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, depending on the type and stage of cancer.

Read next

Tongue Burn: Diagnosis, Treatment, and More
Why You Should Be Brushing Your Tongue
What Does Mouth Cancer Look Like?