What are skin tags?

Skin tags are a common occurrence for people of all ages. They tend to develop in areas where your skin rubs against itself, such as your armpits or eyelids. While you might notice some bumps that look like skin tags on your tongue, they’re likely something else, such as a cyst or area of extra tissue. Skin tags only grow on the outer layer of your skin, not the mucous membranes that line your inner mouth and tongue.

Keep reading to learn more about what might cause a skin tag-like growth on your tongue and how to remove it.

Plica fimbriata

Plica fimbriata refers to the small folds in the membrane on the underside of your tongue. The folds tend to run parallel to, and on either side of your frenulum. The frenulum is the web of tissue that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Some people have small growths along their plica fimbriata that resemble skin tags.

These growths are harmless, but they can sometimes get caught in your teeth. If one of these bumps comes off, it can leave an open sore that’s vulnerable to infection. Call your doctor if you start to notice any pain, redness, swelling, or oozing around your plica fibriata. Most infections clear up with a round of antibiotics. In other cases, you may just need to use an antiseptic mouthwash for a few days to keep the area clean.

Irritation fibroma

A fibroma is a small, noncancerous cluster of tissue. They can occur in many areas, including your tongue. It might be the same color as your tongue or slightly darker or lighter. They’re usually caused by some sort of minor injury, such as biting your tongue or rubbing it against a rough tooth or retainer. When this happens, it’s known as an irritation fibroma.

Most irritation fibromas are painless and don’t require treatment. If you want to remove it, your doctor can perform a surgical excision.

Human papilloma virus

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a type of sexually transmitted disease. While most people associate HPV with the genitals, it can also affect your mouth and throat. This is usually caused by oral sex.

When HPV affects your mouth, it can cause several types of bumps inside your mouth, including on your tongue. One of the more common growths, called squamous cell papilloma, can look a lot like a skin tag on your tongue. These flesh-colored bumps are noncancerous warts. You might notice just one or a cluster of several tag-like growths in one spot. They can show up on your tongue, lips, or throat.

While they’re harmless, they can sometimes get in the way of eating and drinking. If you find them bothersome, your doctor can surgically excise them, or freeze them off with cryosurgery.

Regardless of whether you want to remove the growths, it’s best to check in with your doctor. There are many variations of HPV, and some of them increase your risk of certain types of oral cancer. Your doctor can confirm whether the growth on your tongue is cancerous by doing a simple biopsy.

Lymphoepithelial cysts

Lymphoepithelial cysts (LECs) are hardened nodules that can develop inside soft tissues throughout your body. According to a 2017 review, LECs are most common in the throat and head areas. LECs on your tongue tend to show up on the bottom of your tongue. They’re usually painless and look like white or yellow bumps. They can be up to 1 centimeter wide.

LECs aren’t cancerous, but your doctor may still want to do a biopsy to confirm it’s not something else.

Warning signs

In most cases, a growth resembling a skin tag on your tongue is harmless. However, it’s always best to get any new tongue bumps checked out by your doctor just to be sure.

You should also see your doctor as soon as possible if you also notice any of the following symptoms:

  • changes in size, texture, or color of the growth
  • pain in your mouth that doesn’t go away
  • open wounds in your mouth that won’t heal
  • red or white patches inside your mouth
  • throat pain or tightness
  • numbness
  • voice changes
  • unexplained weight loss
  • trouble chewing or swallowing
  • problems moving your jaw or tongue

While many of these can be signs of a minor underlying condition, they can also be early symptoms of oral cancer.

The bottom line

Skin tags don’t grow on your tongue. However, several things that often resemble skin tags can grow on your tongue. While they’re usually not a sign of anything serious, it’s best to get any new bump on your tongue checked out by your doctor to rule out any underlying condition that needs treatment.