Tongue Pain: Common Causes for a Sore Tongue

Tongue Pain: Common Causes for a Sore Tongue
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Tongue Pain: Common Causes for a Sore TongueClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Sore Tongue
  2. Causes of a Sore Tongue
  3. Treatment for a Sore Tongue
  4. How to Prevent Tongue Pain
  5. References

You can get a sore tongue for a number of reasons, including a minor injury such as biting or tongue, or it can be related to a more serious underlying condition, such as a tumor. Tongue pain is often related to inflammation or sores on the tongue. It can be the result of an infection as well.

Tongue pain can make it difficult to eat and drink normally. It can also make it harder to talk regularly.

Most of the time, a sore tongue is an inconvenience. It’s generally a minor issue, and it can be managed at home with little to no treatment.

When tongue pain is caused by an underlying condition that may not be as obvious or it does not go away on its own, it may require medical attention and treatment.

Sore Tongue

Your tongue can hurt for a variety of reasons, and most of the time, it is not a major cause for concern. Tongue pain often includes swelling and irritation, and it can also come with a burning, tingling, or numbing sensation. When your tongue hurts, it can make it hard to chew, swallow, and talk normally.

A sore tongue can happen suddenly, such as when you bite your tongue, or it may be duller and achier. It may go away quickly or linger a few days to weeks. Tongue pain can range from minor discomfort to more significant soreness.

Causes of a Sore Tongue

Tongue pain can be the result of many different things.


An injury to the tongue, such as biting the tongue, cutting the tongue, or burning it, can cause trauma and tongue pain. This type of sore tongue usually involves sharp pain.

Minor cuts, injuries, and burns will typically clear up in a week or so. More serious lacerations or burns can require medical treatment.


There are a few different types of glossitis that cause the tongue to become sore and inflamed. Glossitis can cause the tongue to appear red and smooth as well as painful and swollen.

Glossitis can occur on its own or be the symptom of another condition, such as infection, injury, environmental irritants, allergic reactions, vitamin deficiencies, and hormonal factors.

Geographic tongue is a form of glossitis that is a common mouth problem, causing red or white patches to form on the tongue with a kind of map-like look. These patches can be sensitive and sore, and they can move around the tongue.

If you have patches on your tongue that are causing you pain and do not go away within a week or two, or keep coming back, check with your medical provider.


Sores or ulcers on the tongue can be canker sores or cold sores. A canker sore is typically an immune response and not contagious. Canker sores are small sores that have a white or yellow center. They generally heal within 7 to 10 days.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1). They are highly contagious, and they can form painful blisters on or inside the mouth. An outbreak typically clears up in a few weeks.

Oral Thrush
This is a yeast infection caused by the fungus Candida that can occur in the mouth and throat, causing white patches, redness, tongue pain, loss of taste, and issues eating and swallowing. Oral thrush will typically require medical attention and antifungal medications to clear.

Tongue pain can be caused by a tumor on the tongue, which can be benign (meaning that it is non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Oral cancer is rare and can impact the tongue. It usually presents as a bump on the tongue that can be painful and sensitive to the touch.

Unexplained bumps and soreness on the tongue that do not go away should be checked out by a medical professional.

Painful mouth sores can be a side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers, along with certain mouthwashes, can also cause tongue pain.

Treatment for a Sore Tongue

Tongue pain can often be managed at home. Treatments like gargling a saltwater rinse and sucking on ice chips can help to reduce tongue swelling and soreness. The cause of your sore tongue will dictate the best treatment methods.

For instance, if your tongue pain is caused by a canker sore, over-the-counter topical pain and numbing medications can help to ease the soreness. Glossitis can be caused by vitamin deficiencies and can therefore be remedied by balancing your diet and including the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Conditions such as thrush, and sometimes cold sores, can be treated with medications. Severe cuts and burns, as well as unexplained or continuing tongue pain, will need to be evaluated and treated by a medical professional.

How to Prevent Tongue Pain

One of the best ways to prevent tongue pain is to practice good oral hygiene.

  • Brush your teeth twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride, non-abrasive toothpaste.
  • Floss every day.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Keep your stress level to a minimum.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • See your dentist for routine check-ups and dental cleanings.


Key Statistics for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers. (March 2021). American Cancer Society. Date Fetched: August 1, 2021.

Common Tongue Conditions in Primary Care. (March 2010). American Family Physician. Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Glossitis. (July 2021). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Sore or Painful Tongue. NiDirect. Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Canker Sore. (July 2021). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Cold Sores. (September 2020). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Candida Infections of the Mouth, Throat, and Esophagus. (February 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC).

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.