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Tongue Burn vs Burning Tongue Disease

Updated on August 5, 2022
Nandita Lilly
Written by Zia Sherrell
Medically Reviewed by Nandita Lilly

What Causes Tongue Burns?

If you've ever burned your tongue, you know how painful it can be. Unfortunately, it's a common occurrence if you commonly eat or drink something too hot. 

Tongue tissue is sensitive to extreme temperatures and can easily burn and injure. 

Mild tongue burns may feel like a slight tingling or prickling feeling. More extensive burns can cause pain, swelling, redness, and blistering. 

Burns on the tongue usually heal within 2 weeks but may lead to further problems in some cases. If you have a severe burn, seek immediate medical attention.1

Sometimes, people may feel like their tongue is burnt but haven’t experienced a physical injury. One potential cause is a chronic condition called burning mouth syndrome (idiopathic glossopyrosis). If a burning sensation doesn't go away, contact a doctor.

Tongue Burn vs. Burning Mouth Syndrome

A burnt tongue has a specific cause, such as eating or drinking something too hot. You'll notice the burn immediately, and it usually resolves by itself. 

Conversely, burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a chronic condition that causes a burning sensation in the mouth without an apparent cause. People with BMS usually experience pain, numbness, and tingling in the mouth, along with altered taste.

The pain can be significant and distressing. It can affect any of the mouth's soft tissues, including the mouth's tongue, gums, lips, or roof. It often requires medication to ease symptoms.2

How is BMS diagnosed?

No single test can determine the presence of BMS. Instead, your doctor examines your mouth and reviews your medical history to rule out other issues. They may also ask about your dental hygiene routine, medications, and eating habits.

They may also order the following tests to help diagnose:3

  • Blood tests A complete test of blood count, glucose level, thyroid function, and immune function may provide insight into potential causes of oral discomfort.
  • Oral cultures or biopsies Mouth swabs or tissue samples can help rule out fungal, bacterial, or viral infections.
  • Allergy tests These tests highlight food or additive allergies contributing to BMD symptoms.
  • Salivary measurements Salivary tests may indicate a reduced saliva flow, a feature of BMD. 
  • Gastric reflux tests — These tests check for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition allows stomach acid into the esophagus, causing burning symptoms.
  • Imaging MRI or CT scans can rule out other health problems.
  • Medication adjustment — Some medications can cause side effects like dry mouth. Your doctor may change the dose, switch you to a different drug, or temporarily stop the prescription if the discomfort eases.
  • Mental health assessments Your doctor may ask you to complete questionnaires to rule out depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. 

How do treatments differ?

Treatment for a burnt tongue involves cooling the area with ice or cool water, salt water rinses, and pain-relieving medication. Additionally, you should avoid hot foods and liquids until the burn heals.

There's no cure for BMS. Instead, treatment aims to control symptoms and ease mouth discomfort.

Treatment options may include:4

  • Medications to replace saliva
  • Oral rinses containing lidocaine, an anesthetic
  • Capsaicin, a pain-relieving medication extracted from chili peppers
  • Clonazepam, an anticonvulsant medication
  • Antidepressants
  • Medicines that block nerve signals
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help cope with chronic pain 

Which is more serious and requires medical attention?

A tongue burn usually doesn't require a doctor’s attention and heals by itself. However, contact a doctor if it's severe or affects the areas at the back of the throat. Burns may cause swelling or interfere with breathing.

BMS typically requires medical attention and long-term management, as the symptoms can be severe enough to affect a person's quality of life. It can also lead to nutritional problems if someone stops or limits eating due to discomfort.

Symptoms of a Burnt Tongue

Because the tongue is so sensitive, a burn may feel much worse than it is. However, for most people, burns to the tongue are minimal and cause no lasting damage. 

If a burn is significant, you may experience the following symptoms:1

  • First-degree burn — Affects the top layer of tissue, making it red and swollen.
  • Second-degree burn — Affects the top layer and the layer beneath. The tongue may become red, swollen, and blistered.
  • Third-degree burn — Affects the tongue's deep tissues, which may turn white or black. The pain is searing.

Tongue Burn Complications

Severe burns can become infected. Therefore, see a doctor for second-degree and third-degree burns.

If food or drink also burns the epiglottis (the flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat), it can become inflamed or swollen. In young children, this could potentially block airways.

So, seek urgent medical advice if you're concerned about a child's breathing or the injury's severity.

Burning your tongue can also damage your taste buds, leading to loss of taste and sensation. However, this is usually a short-term complication that recovers quickly.5

5 Ways to Heal a Burnt Tongue

Here are five effective ways to help heal a burnt tongue: 

1.   Ice chips and cool drinks

Suck on ice chips and drink cold water to lower the burn temperature. This cooling effect eases irritation and discomfort and reduces swelling. It also keeps you hydrated and allows saliva to flow.

Avoid hot drinks and replace them with chilled versions like iced coffee or tea for a few days. This allows time to heal.6

2.   Salt water rinses

Saltwater rinses may reduce inflammation and swelling from a burnt tongue. Salt is a natural antiseptic that may prevent harmful bacteria from causing an infection.

Studies show that rinsing your mouth with saltwater helps heal and support oral health.7

Make a salt rinse by adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water. Gently swish the mixture around your mouth several times a day to ease discomfort.

3.   Honey

Honey naturally fights germs, as it's antimicrobial. It also speeds up recovery from burns and soothes the tissues.

Apply honey directly to your tongue and allow it to dissolve. Remember to brush your teeth afterward. Honey is high in sugar and can cause tooth decay

4.   Soft, cold foods

Your tongue will feel tender for several days following a burn. Therefore, eating small bites of soft, cold foods will be more comfortable and help ease irritation. Ice cream, yogurt, and applesauce are good choices.

When you're ready to resume eating and drinking hot foods and beverages, take tiny bites and small sips to avoid irritation. Avoid spicy foods until the burn fully heals.

5.   Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication

You can use over-the-counter pain-relieving medications with home remedies. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are good options to reduce inflammation. Follow the dosage instructions.

Tongue Burn Prevention 

Testing the temperature of hot drinks and foods before consumption can help prevent future burns.

Exercise particular caution when heating foods in the microwave. Foods do not always heat evenly, and they may be hot in some places and cooler in others.

Summary

Consuming hot foods and drinks can cause a burnt tongue. Although most tongue burn symptoms are minor, they can be extremely painful for several days. But, they usually heal by themselves in a couple of weeks.

Sometimes, complications such as infection or a temporary loss of taste and feeling can occur.

If a tongue burn is severe or the sensation has no apparent cause, seek medical help. A chronic problem called burning mouth syndrome causes similar sensations and requires a medical diagnosis and treatment.

Last updated on August 5, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 5, 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. How to treat a tongue burn.” Savina Clinic. 2021.  
  2. Burning mouth syndrome symptoms & causes.” Mayo Clinic. 2019.
  3. Burning mouth syndrome diagnosis & treatment.” Mayo Clinic. 2019.
  4. Burning mouth syndrome.” Family Doctor. 2019.
  5. 4 Ways to soothe a burnt tongue and mouth.” Cleveland Clinic. 2020. 
  6. 5 ways to heal a burnt tongue.” Friendswood Smile Dentistry. 2021.
  7. Huynh, N., et al. "Rinsing with saline promotes human gingival fibroblast wound healing in vitro." PLoS One. 2016.
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