Many conditions that can cause a sore tongue can be prevented by practicing good oral hygiene. Some home remedies may also ease the soreness, depending on the cause.
A sore tongue usually isn’t a cause for concern, but it can be hard to ignore the feeling. Along with soreness, the tongue can have:
- small bumps
- white or red patches, or raised areas
- burning sensation
If the soreness or pain lasts more than two weeks, or presents itself with other bothersome symptoms, see a doctor.
Most causes of a sore tongue, like canker sores, swollen taste buds, and mouth injuries, can be treated at home. Home remedies can also help you ease a sore tongue caused by more serious medical conditions, such as burning mouth syndrome or oral thrush, as part of a medical treatment plan.
Brushing your teeth with a soft toothbrush, flossing, and using a mouthwash can help rid yourself of a sore tongue and prevent infection. You may also find that using a toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate helps relieve soreness.
For pain and swelling, try rinsing your mouth with a mixture of warm water and baking soda (1 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of water). You can also make a paste out of baking soda and water and apply it to the sore area.
Milk of magnesia
Applying small amounts of milk of magnesia, an acid neutralizer, to a sore tongue can help relieve pain and promote healing.
As an antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide can treat an infection or sore inside your mouth. Use only 3% hydrogen peroxide and dilute it with water (equal parts peroxide to water).
Dab the affected area using a cotton swab. After a few seconds, rinse your mouth with warm water.
Gargling salt water is another way to reduce pain, inflammation, and prevent infection. Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, swish it around your mouth, gargle, and spit.
Honey is a natural antibacterial and has been shown to be effective in treating several types of wounds. You can rub a bit of honey directly on the sore area a few times per day or drink a warm tea with honey.
Coconut oil may be able to heal a sore tongue because of its antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Apply the oil directly to the sore area with a cotton ball, rubbing it gently. Or you can swish it around in your mouth and spit it out. This is called oil pulling.
Chamomile is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific evidence is limited, however. To try this remedy, rinse your mouth with a strong chamomile tea once it has cooled, or apply a wet tea bag directly to the sore spot.
Ice, ice pops, and cold water
Ice has numbing qualities, so drinking ice-cold water or sucking on an ice cube or ice pop can help relieve some tongue soreness, including soreness caused by dry mouth, or a burning mouth.
You can also visit your local drugstore for OTC topical treatments that work by coating the tongue and protecting it from further irritation.
- benzocaine (Orabase, Zilactin-B)
- OTC hydrogen peroxide rinses (Peroxyl, Orajel)
If your tongue soreness is caused by a vitamin deficiency, consider taking a multivitamin or a vitamin B complex supplement. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Avoiding spicy and irritating foods
Spicy and acidic foods (like pineapple, lemon, and tomato) can worsen tongue soreness. Until the soreness goes away, avoid these foods. Instead, eat soft, bland foods, like mashed potatoes and oatmeal.
Though home remedies might help reduce tongue soreness, infections and inflammatory conditions, as well as chronic illnesses like cancer, will most likely require medical treatment.
Bacterial infections, like syphilis, can lead to mouth sores. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. Make sure to take the full course of antibiotics, even if you start feeling better.
Antifungals, like fulcanazole (Diflucan) and clotrimazole (Mycelex Troche) are prescribed to treat oral thrush.
A prescription mouthwash or antimicrobial mouth rinse can help prevent infections as a sore tongue heals.
A doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation caused by mouth sores or by another inflammatory condition, like lichen planus.
You might need a prescription vitamin supplement, like a B-12 shot, folate, or iron to help treat a vitamin deficiency.
Medications to increase saliva production
If you have dry mouth, there are prescriptions available to help increase saliva production.
Treatment for oral cancer usually consists of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
If you notice changes in your tongue (like changes in color, bumps, or sores), that last for more than two weeks, visit a doctor or dentist. You should see a doctor sooner if you have the following symptoms alongside a sore tongue:
- bleeding gums
- white patches in the mouth
- inability to eat or drink
- blisters or sores on other parts of the body
A doctor can find out if your tongue soreness is caused by an underlying condition, or if you simply need to make some changes to your oral hygiene routine. They can also test to rule out less-common causes of tongue soreness, like burning mouth syndrome and oral cancer.
Tongue issues caused by infections, like oral thrush, or syphilis, will likely require a prescription to get rid of the infection, so don’t delay making an appointment.
If you need help finding a primary care doctor or dentist, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
Most causes of a sore tongue are temporary and aren’t serious.
The most common causes of tongue soreness include:
- injury, like biting or burning the tongue
- irritation from braces or dentures, brushing teeth too hard, or grinding your teeth at night
- swollen taste buds (enlarged papillae), also called lie bumps
- canker sores
- oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth)
- infections, like syphilis, hand, foot, and mouth disease, HPV, and scarlet fever
- food sensitivities or allergies
- smoking and chewing tobacco
- acid reflux
- dry mouth (xerostomia)
Less common causes for a sore tongue include:
A sore tongue usually isn’t serious, and may even resolve on its own within two weeks. In the meantime, you can try a few home remedies to ease the pain as you heal.
Home remedies can also help with the symptoms of more serious medical conditions, like oral thrush and vitamin deficiencies, as part of the medical treatment plan recommended by a doctor.