How to Identify & Treat Sores on the Tongue

How to Identify & Treat Sores on the Tongue
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How to Identify & Treat Sores on the TongueClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Signs of Sores on the Tongue
  2. Causes of Sores on the Tongue
  3. Treatment Methods
  4. Preventing Sores
  5. References

You can usually tell when you have a sore on your tongue, as it will often be painful or irritated at the site. The area may feel bumpy or swollen.

Sores on the tongue can be caused by cold sores, canker sores, infection, injury, or, less commonly, cancer. Modifying your diet, limiting alcohol and tobacco products, and practicing good oral hygiene can help to prevent sores on your tongue from forming.

Sores on your tongue are not typically serious and will often clear up on their own without you even needing to do anything. They can be painful and uncomfortable for a week or two though. It can help to use topical treatments and home remedies to reduce the irritation.

Signs of Sores on the Tongue

Most of the time, sores on the tongue are related to minor conditions, such as injury, canker sores, or cold sores. They can occasionally signal a bigger, more serious, underlying condition, so it is important to pay attention to them.

Signs that you have a sore on your tongue can include:

  • Pain or irritation in a certain spot.
  • Redness or swelling.
  • Bleeding from the tongue.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Gray, yellow, white, or red spots on the tongue.

If the sore on your tongue does not go away within a week or two, it keeps coming back, or you experience additional symptoms, such as fever or flu-like symptoms, consult with your doctor.

Causes of Sores on the Tongue

A sore on the tongue can be caused by biting your tongue or a minor injury or cut to the tongue. It can also be caused be a variety of other factors such as these:

Canker Sores

A canker sore is one of the most common causes of sores in the mouth. These can occur on the tongue, gums, or insides of your cheeks. They can appear white, yellow, or gray in color.

They are often caused by some sort of immune system reaction. They are small ulcers that will generally clear up on their own.

Cold Sores

These are also called fever blisters. They generally occur on the outside of the lips, but they can also be on the tongue.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). It can cause blisters that rupture to form sores on the tongue. They are part of a herpes outbreak and highly contagious. They typically go away within a week or two.

Oral Lichen Planus

This is a chronic disease that can affect the oral cavity, including the tongue, causing sores and ulceration that can lead to pain.3 It can also cause patches that are white or lace-like and itch, as well as swollen and peeling gums, and raised red purple or red plaques on the body.

This condition is likely caused by genetics, stress, injury, or viral infection. The symptoms of oral lichen planus may need to be managed by a medical professional, depending on their severity.

Infections
Sores on the tongue can be caused by infections, such as hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is highly contagious and typically impacts children. There are no specific treatments for this condition. Most often, it clears up on its own within a week or so.
Cancer
A less common cause of sores on the tongue can be mouth cancer, which can cause lesions or ulcers to form on the tongue. The tongue is one of the main sites that mouth cancer can present.
Sores on the tongue can also form due to treatment methods for mouth cancer.
If you ever experience a bright pink color on the tongue it is most often due to a deficiency in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B-12, but it can also be an allergic reaction to gluten.

Treatment Methods

The treatment for a sore on your tongue is going to depend on what caused it in the first place. Most of the time, tongue sores heal on their own, and you will not need to do anything to treat them.

There are several methods you can use to alleviate some of the discomfort from these sores on your tongue.

  • Gargle with a solution of warm saltwater.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water, and apply it to the sore.
  • Avoid spicy, salty, and citrus foods as well as those that are hot in temperature.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medications.
  • Suck on ice chips.

If the sore gets worse, does not go away, or you start experiencing additional symptoms, talk to your doctor.

Preventing Sores From Forming on Your Tongue

When it comes to prevention of sores on your tongue, again, this is partly determined by the cause of the sore. Often, mouth sores can be prevented by chewing carefully, avoiding overly hot food and beverages, practicing good oral hygiene (including using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste), and limiting your alcohol intake while avoiding the use of tobacco products.

Canker sores and cold sores are often triggered by a stress response. Keeping your stress levels low and practicing relaxation techniques may help to prevent sores from forming on your tongue.

References

Oral Herpes. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. (February 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Key Statistics for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers. (March 2021). American Cancer Society. Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Diagnostic Features of Common Oral Ulcerative Lesions: An Updated Decision Tree. (2016). International Journal of Dentistry. Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Canker Sores. (December 2007). The American Academy of Oral Medicine. Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Oral Lichen Planus. (September 2013). The American Academy of Oral Medicine. Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Mouth Sores. (July 2021). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: July 29, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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