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Updated on July 14, 2022

Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue

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What are Tongue Bumps? What Do They Look Like?

A healthy tongue is normally covered in small bumps, called papillae. Some of them contain taste buds. They give the tongue its distinctive texture.1

Your papillae are often unnoticeable because they have a consistent color and texture. However, some conditions can cause them to become inflamed.

Inflamed papillae can appear raised or enlarged. They may cause your tongue to feel painful, sore, or unusually sensitive.

Many of the things that cause inflamed tongue bumps are temporary, but some are more serious.

woman checking inside of her mouth in the mirror

8 Causes of Bumps on the Back of the Tongue

1. Injury or Irritation

A tongue injury may cause a bump to appear or your tongue to feel rough. Like other parts of the body, the tongue may enlarge in response to an injury. 

People who unintentionally bite their tongue may have a swollen bump for a few days following the incident.

Hot drinks or foods can also irritate or burn your tongue, leading to rough patches or enlarged bumps.

2. Lie Bumps

Lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis (TLP), are temporary inflammations of the papillae.

Itching, acute sensitivity, or a burning feeling on the tongue are all symptoms of lie bumps. 

Although their cause is not precisely known, they may be affected by hormonal, dietary, and stress-related factors. Lie bumps typically go away on their own.

3. Canker sores

Canker sores are the most common type of mouth sore.2

They usually occur on the inside of the lips or cheeks, although they may also show up on the tongue. The sores are typically red, white, or yellow and may be rough and unpleasant. 

Most canker sores subside on their own. Others become very painful and may need medical attention.

4. Squamous Papilloma

Squamous papilloma may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It shows up as an irregular lump or bump on the tongue.

This condition is usually painless. It can be treated with surgical or laser removal. Other symptoms of HPV can be addressed on an individual basis.

5. Glossitis

Glossitis is an inflammatory condition where the tongue loses its papillae (depapillation). This can cause your tongue to appear red and irritated, but smooth.

Geographic tongue is a type of glossitis. It causes irregular patches that seem to migrate across the tongue over time.

Glossitis can be caused by nutrient deficiencies (such as anemia), infections, or other systemic or autoimmune conditions.

6. Scarlet Fever

The same bacteria that cause strep throat can also cause scarlet fever. One symptom of scarlet fever is a red, bumpy tongue, known as “strawberry tongue.”

Scarlet fever is most often seen in children or people who come into contact with them. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat this illness. 

7. Allergies

Food allergies may cause swelling or itching of the tongue and create bumps. If your entire tongue swells suddenly, it may be due to a serious condition known as anaphylaxis.3 

Seek immediate assistance if you experience swelling on the lips, tongue, and mouth, sudden rashes or hives, or difficulty breathing.

8. Cancer

In rare cases, a bump on your tongue could be a sign of tongue cancer. 

If a tongue bump develops on the side of the tongue, it's more likely to be malignant, especially if it's hard and painless. You should see your doctor for any lump or bump that lasts more than a week or two.

Other Causes

Other possible causes of tongue bumps include:

  • Oral thrush, an oral yeast infection that causes creamy white patches to appear on the tongue4
  • Traumatic fibroma, a smooth, pink growth on the tongue that may be brought on by chronic irritation
  • Lymphoepithelial cysts, which are benign cysts that can appear on the underside of the tongue
  • Syphilis, a potentially life-threatening infection that can cause mouth and tongue sores, especially if spread via oral sex5
  • Tuberculosis, which normally affects the lungs but in rare cases may affect the mouth and tongue6

Other Symptoms That Accompany Tongue Bumps

Inflamed lumps on the tongue typically look bigger and swollen. They may also change color to white, bright pink, or black. 

Tongue bumps may be accompanied by:

  • Pain in the mouth or tongue when eating or swallowing
  • Cotton-mouth
  • White patches on the insides of the cheeks, the tongue, or the back of the throat
  • Bleeding from the bumps
  • Lump or swelling in the neck
  • Fever
  • Sickly feeling (malaise)
  • Trouble speaking or moving the tongue
  • Change or loss of taste

When to See a Doctor for Tongue Bumps

Most causes of inflamed tongue bumps resolve on their own. However, you should seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Symptoms lasting longer than one week
  • Rapidly growing, spreading, or bleeding bumps
  • Bumps keep returning after healing
  • Inability to eat or drink

Diagnosing & Treating Tongue Bumps

A doctor will first inquire about your medical history and any known allergies to determine what is causing your tongue bumps. 

They will do an oral exam to check for changes in taste bud color, texture, size, and abnormalities to help guide therapy.7

Your physician may also order blood tests to rule out other problems such as infection or disease.

If the doctor suspects cancer, they will send you to a specialist who will either conduct a biopsy or remove the bump entirely.

Although some causes of tongue bumps require medical attention, home remedies can help. These include:

  • Hydrating with water (drink through a straw if you have pain drinking normally)
  • Rinsing your mouth with lukewarm water and a teaspoon of salt
  • Avoiding acidic/spicy foods and drinks
  • Using topical numbing gels
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Avoiding alcohol-based mouthwashes

When Should You Worry About Bumps on Tongue?

Keep an eye on the size, color, and spread of the tongue bumps while you treat them at home. If there is no improvement or your condition worsens, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Tips for Preventing Tongue Bumps

Good oral health may lower the chance of tongue bumps and cancer and keep lumps from becoming infected or painful. 

Maintain good oral hygiene by doing the following:

  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day
  • Use a stainless steel tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the tongue
  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Regular visits to the dentist (twice a year is recommended)
  • Avoiding acidic foods that irritate the tongue
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Avoiding sugary foods
  • Rinsing the mouth thoroughly after using medications such as steroids or inhalers

Summary

Your tongue is naturally covered in tiny bumps, known as papillae. You may rarely notice them due to their size and color.

Sometimes injuries, infections, or other conditions can make your papillae swell, or cause larger bumps to appear on your tongue.

While many of these conditions are temporary and resolve on their own, others may be more serious.

Talk to your dentist or doctor if you’re concerned about changes in your tongue’s appearance or sensitivity.

9 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 14, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Tongue problems,”U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  2. Canker Sores,” Cleveland Clinic
  3. Oral candidiasis: An overview,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), September 2014
  4. Basic TB Facts,” U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  5. Anaphylaxis,” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
  6. Oral findings in secondary syphilis,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 25 February 2018
  7. The Oral Cavity and Associated Structures,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
  8. Cobblestone Appearance of the Nasopharyngeal Mucosa,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), October 2017
  9. Lymphoid hyperplasia” National Institute of Health (NIH)
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