Your tongue is a vital and versatile muscle that aids in the
digestion of food and helps you speak properly. You may not often think about
the health of your tongue, but there are a number of conditions can affect this
muscle. Tongue inflammation is one such condition.
Tongue inflammation occurs
when the tongue becomes swollen and possibly discolored. This can make the
tongue appear as if it’s smooth. Other names for tongue inflammation include tongue
infection, smooth tongue, glossodynia, glossitis, and burning tongue syndrome.
What causes tongue inflammation?
Tongue inflammation rarely occurs by itself. It often occurs within
the context of other health problems.
Tongue inflammation may occur if you have an allergic reaction to
toothpaste, mouthwash, dentures, denture creams, or retainers. Allergic
reactions to certain medications may also cause this condition.
This condition results in the destruction of the saliva glands.
When this occurs, you may develop dry mouth, which in turn can lead to tongue
Burns or trauma inside the mouth may cause tongue inflammation.
Pathologically low levels of vitamin B-12 or iron may cause
Certain skin conditions may cause tongue inflammation. Oral lichen
planus is an inflammatory disease causing sores, swelling, and redness.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can present as a body rash. Pemphigus
is an autoimmune disease that causes skin blistering.
Yeast infections in the mouth, also known as thrush, can cause
Alcohol, spicy foods, or tobacco may irritate the mouth and cause
What are the symptoms of tongue inflammation?
Symptoms of tongue inflammation depend on the severity of your
condition and the health condition causing it. You may experience problems with
chewing, swallowing, or speaking. You may have a sore, tender, or swollen
tongue. Your tongue may change color and appear pale or red.
A very serious symptom of tongue inflammation is when you
experience severe swelling. This can block your airway. Call 911 immediately if
you or someone else is experiencing severe swelling.
Some people with this condition won’t feel pain. Their only
symptom may be a swollen tongue.
How is tongue inflammation diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine your tongue to diagnose tongue
inflammation. Examination may show that papillae are missing. Papillae are small, fingerlike projections
typically found on the tongue. Your doctor may also note swelling of the
Your doctor may ask you about your health history and recent
trauma to the mouth or tongue in an effort to determine the underlying cause. They
may ask about new toothpastes, new foods, or other triggers that might have
caused a sudden onset of inflammation.
If there’s no obvious cause for your symptoms, your doctor may
perform other tests to determine the cause of your tongue inflammation. Blood
tests are commonly used to see if you have a vitamin deficiency or anemia (low iron levels).
They can also identify diseases like syphilis.
In rare cases where your doctor suspects oral lichen planus, your
doctor may take a biopsy, or tissue sample, for laboratory testing.
What are the treatment options for tongue inflammation?
Treatment of tongue inflammation focuses on two goals. First, it
should reduce the inflammation and pain. Second, treatment of tongue
inflammation should target the underlying health condition causing this
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug or suggest an
over-the-counter remedy like ibuprofen. These medications can help minimize
inflammation and reduce pain while your doctor treats the underlying condition.
To treat the condition causing tongue inflammation, your doctor
may prescribe medications such as antibiotics, antifungals, or antimicrobials.
They may also recommend dietary or lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking
and avoiding alcohol. Your doctor may also recommend you take supplements such
as iron or vitamin B-12.
Good oral hygiene may also help reduce symptoms of tongue
inflammation. Be sure to brush and floss your teeth every day. Have your teeth
examined and cleaned by a dental professional on a regular basis.
When should I seek medical care?
You may or may not need to call your doctor if you have symptoms
of tongue inflammation. Swelling and inflammation of the tongue typically
resolve after several days. If symptoms are still present after 10 days,
contact your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you have trouble
swallowing, breathing, or speaking.
Severe swelling of the tongue that blocks the airway is a
medical emergency. If this occurs, you should seek emergency medical attention.