A sore tongue can happen for various reasons, such as an injury, a mouth ulcer, or an underlying health condition. Some causes may need medical treatment.

Whether it’s the side, the tip, or the back of your tongue, a sore tongue can be hard to ignore. It can make it hard to speak or eat.

A sore tongue often resolves without treatment, but it can sometimes indicate a more serious issue, such as a vitamin deficiency, infection, or chronic condition.

Here, we look at some of the most common causes and when to see a doctor.

Surgery, cutting the tongue, biting it, grinding the teeth, or eating something hot or sharp can cause trauma to the tongue.

A severe injury may need medical attention, but minor trauma will heal in time without intervention.

Topical pain relief can help manage discomfort, especially when eating.

How do you take care of a cut or scrape in the mouth?

Enlarged papillae sometimes appear on the tongue. These white or red bumps are sometimes called lie bumps or transient lingual papillitis.

These bumps are inflamed taste buds. The exact cause is unclear, but stress and hormonal changes may play a role.

They can be painful but usually resolve without treatment in a few days.

Oral thrush, also called candidiasis, is a type of fungal or yeast infection of the mouth or throat. It can cause pain, redness, a cotton-like feeling in the mouth, loss of taste, and white patches that look like cottage cheese.

Oral thrush is more common in:

  • infants less than 1 month of age
  • older adults
  • people who wear dentures
  • those with a weakened immune system
  • people who have recently taken antibiotics
  • those who use steroid inhalers to manage their asthma
  • people who smoke

A doctor may prescribe antifungal medications.

Other infections may also give you a sore tongue, such as:

Treatment options will depend on the cause. A bacterial infection, such as syphilis, will need antibiotics.

Pain that starts with a tingling feeling and is focused around a specific spot may be an ulcer or canker sore, also known as an aphthous ulcer.

These are whitish in appearance or sometimes red, yellow, or gray.

Canker sores can result from:

  • a minor trauma, such as biting the tongue
  • eating something hard or sharp
  • stress or anxiety
  • an allergy or sensitivity to a food or substances in oral hygiene products
  • some chronic conditions, such as celiac disease
  • viral infections

Ulcers usually disappear after a week or two, but some may take weeks or months to heal.

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as gels, can often help ease the discomfort.

If certain foods make your tongue hurt, it may be a sign of oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen-food syndrome. It mostly results from a sensitivity or allergy to substances in raw fruits, vegetables, and certain tree nuts.

Along with a sore tongue, you might experience:

  • an itchy mouth
  • a scratchy throat
  • swelling of your lips, mouth, or tongue

If your reaction is severe, a doctor may suggest you carry an epinephrine auto-injector.

Smoking can cause tongue pain by increasing the risk of mouth and throat cancer, gum disease, tooth damage, abrasions, and other issues.

Conversely, people who smoke appear to have a lower risk of aphthous ulcers. However, the risk of smoking far outweigh this benefit.

This article provides helpful information about quitting smoking.

The 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline also provides effective support, such as counseling, referrals to local programs, and free medication, for people who want to quit smoking.

Low levels of the following nutrients can lead to a sore tongue:

Treatment involves eating a well-balanced diet, asking a doctor about supplements, and receiving vitamin injections, in some cases.

What are some common signs of nutritional deficiencies?

Burning mouth or burning tongue syndrome can cause a burning sensation on your tongue or other areas of your mouth, like the inside of your cheeks, gums, lips, or palate.

It may feel as if you have eaten hot foods and scalded your tongue.

The feeling can appear suddenly or develop over time. Other symptoms include increased thirst or dry mouth and taste changes or a loss of taste.

Possible causes include nerve damage or an underlying condition, such as hormonal changes, medication use, and others. The treatment will depend on the cause.

Why is my tongue burning?

Neuralgia results from nerve irritation or damage, and it can cause tongue pain and burning tongue syndrome.

The pain is often intense, like an electric shock, and you may feel it on your tongue or in your throat, tonsils, or ears, especially when you swallow.

You may need medication to help with nerve pain.

Oral lichen planus is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease that can cause pain on your tongue, among other symptoms. This is called oral lichen planus.

Lichen planus appears to result from a faulty immune response. Stress and dental plaque can worsen symptoms.

Depending on the type, there might be:

  • a lacy white pattern
  • lines
  • redness
  • ulceration
  • changes in tongue color, in some cases

Around two-thirds of people with this condition experience symptoms. People may notice sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods.

Treatment options include lifestyle remedies and medication to manage the symptoms.

Behcet’s disease causes blood vessel inflammation throughout your body. Most people with this condition experience mouth sores that are similar to canker sores. Other symptoms include genital sores.

A person will need ongoing treatment to manage a range of symptoms. Doctors don’t know why this disease happens, but genetic factors appear to play a role.

Glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue. It can cause pain, irritation, or a burning sensation.

There are different types of glossitis.

Depending on the type, you may notice:

  • redness
  • a smooth, shiny appearance
  • fissures or cracks in the tongue
  • plaque-like lesions

Possible causes include low vitamin B levels, anemia, the use of certain medications, and some infectious diseases.

The use of various medications can sometimes lead to a sore tongue.

They include some:

Check with a doctor if you think any of your medications may be causing a sore tongue. They may be able to offer a different drug.

Pemphigus vulgaris is a rare disorder that can cause painful blisters in your mouth and elsewhere on the body. The exact cause is unknown, but an underlying immune disorder may contribute.

The blisters may rupture, ooze, and become infected.

Treatment usually involves different medications or therapies similar to those used for severe burns.

Oral cancer can sometimes cause a sore tongue.

Oral cancer may not cause pain in the early stages, so it’s a good idea to head to your doctor if you notice a lump, sore, or other lesion that lasts 3 weeks or longer, even if there is no pain.

What does mouth cancer look like?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that leads to inflammation in the salivary and lacrimal glands. Symptoms include chronic dry eyes and a dry mouth as well as joint pain and other issues. The tongue can appear smooth and dry.

It’s unclear why some people develop Sjögren’s syndrome. Genetic factors and exposure to some viruses may contribute.

Drinking water, chewing gum, or using saliva substitutes may help relieve a dry mouth due to Sjögren’s syndrome

Call your doctor or dentist if you notice any changes in your tongue that concern you, such as:

  • change in color
  • lumps or lesions
  • blisters or sores
  • unexplained pain

A doctor can prescribe medication to manage oral thrush, an infection, and any challenging symptoms.

They may also do tests to rule out less common causes, such as Sjögren’s syndrome or oral cancer.

Can your tongue indicate health problems?

Yes, a tongue can indicate a health problem. A healthy tongue is typically pink–or a slightly lighter or darker shade of pink. An unhealthy tongue may be white, black, red, or yellow. It may also be tender and swollen. Other concerning symptoms might be pain when eating or swallowing, or new lumps or bumps.

Potential health problems indicated by a tongue include:

What is a sore tongue a symptom of?

There are many possible causes of a sore tongue, ranging from grinding the teeth to pemphigus vulgaris, a rare disorder that causes blisters. A sore tongue can also be a reaction to certain foods and medications. Smoking can increase the risk.

What is the best remedy for a sore tongue?

Tips for managing a sore tongue include avoiding hot, sharp, or spicy foods and using over-the-counter medications, like benzocaine (Orabase, Zilactin-B) and hydrogen peroxide rinses (Peroxl, Orajel), which coat the tongue and prevent further irritation.

Be sure to talk with a doctor before starting any new medications.

What vitamin deficiencies cause a sore tongue?

Low levels of vitamins B-12, iron, folate, and zinc can lead to a sore throat.

What infections make your tongue sore?

Oral thrush, syphilis, shingles, and chicken pox are all examples of infections that can affect the tongue.

A sore or burning tongue can happen for many reasons, ranging from a hot drink to an underlying health condition, such as Sjögren’s syndrome.

Over-the-counter remedies can often relieve the pain of a sore tongue, but some underlying causes may need specialist treatment.

It’s best to see a doctor if your tongue has unusual symptoms that you can’t explain, if the pain is severe or persistent, or if you notice a lesion or lump that does not go away within 3 weeks, even if it is not painful.