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Updated on February 2, 2023
6 min read

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.

13 Causes of Bumps on the Back of the Tongue

Various things can cause inflamed tongue bumps. Although most of them are temporary, some can be more serious.

Here are 8 reasons why you have bumps on the back of your tongue:

1. Injury or Irritation

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

If you have a swollen bump on your tongue, you may have unintentionally bitten it a few days before. Hot drinks or foods can also 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 can appear as bumps on your tongue. They are common mouth sores that appear inside your:2

  • Lips
  • Cheek
  • Tongue

The sores are typically red, white, or yellow and may be rough and unpleasant. Most canker sores subside on their own. However, others can be 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 a bump on your tongue.

This condition is usually painless and 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 smooth but red and irritated.

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 or vitamin deficiencies
  • Infections
  • Allergies
  • Hereditary factors
  • Hormonal imbalances

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 a “strawberry tongue.”

Scarlet fever is 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:

  • Swollen lips, tongue, or mouth
  • Sudden rashes or hives
  • Breathing difficulties

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.

9. Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is an oral yeast infection that causes creamy white patches on the tongue.4 You may also notice soreness or redness in your mouth if you have this disease.

Other health conditions that can cause oral thrush include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Corticosteroids
  • Organ transplantation
  • Cancer

10. Traumatic Fibroma

Traumatic fibroma is a smooth, pink growth on the tongue or mouth. It's often caused by chronic irritation due to:

  • Cheek or lip biting
  • Rubbing from a rough tooth
  • Dentures or other dental prostheses.

11. Lymphoepithelial Cyst

Lymphoepithelial cysts are rare benign cysts that can appear on the head and neck. The head and neck are sites for salivary glands, and because of this, bumps can appear on the underside of the tongue.10

This is often caused by entrapment or proliferation of epithelium in association with lymphoid tissue. The epithelium is a type of body tissue that covers your body's internal and external surfaces, including the mouth.11

12. Syphilis

Syphilis is a potentially life-threatening infection that can cause mouth and tongue sores. The disease is spread from person to person during sex.5

13. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by germs spread from person to person through the air. Although the disease normally affects the lungs, it can affect the mouth and tongue in rare cases.6

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 known allergies to determine what is causing your tongue bumps. They will do an oral exam to check your taste buds for changes in:7

  • Color
  • Texture
  • Size
  • Abnormalities

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.

Home Remedies for Tonge Bumps

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 tongue bumps' size, color, and spread 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 swell your papillae or cause larger bumps 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.

Last updated on February 2, 2023
11 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 2, 2023
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), 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), 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), 2017
  9. Lymphoid hyperplasia” National Institute of Health (NIH)
  10. Ahamed et al. "Lymphoepithelial cyst of the submandibular gland." J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2014.
  11. Castro et al. "A rare occurrence of lymphoepithelial cyst in the palatine tonsil: a case report and discussion of the etiopathogenesis." Int J Clin Exp, 2015.
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