Updated on April 26, 2024
8 min read

Why Does the Tip of My Tongue Hurt?

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Why Does the Tip of My Tongue Hurt?

You can experience pain on the tip of your tongue for many reasons. These range from local injuries or sores to issues affecting your whole tongue, such as an infection.

illustration of open mouth showing tip of tongue

Sometimes a sore tongue can point to an issue that affects other parts of your body, such as a vitamin deficiency or systemic disease.

In this article, we’ll discuss these different issues and how you can determine what’s causing your tongue pain. We’ll also talk about how a sore or painful tongue can be treated and potentially prevented.

6 Common Causes of Tongue Pain 

The following are some of the more common causes of tongue pain. They can cause pain that specifically affects the tip of your tongue or involve your entire tongue. Additionally, they may or may not cause tongue inflammation (or glossitis). 

1. Injury

A local injury is the most common reason for pain at the tip of your tongue. This could be caused by:

  • Hot food burning your tongue
  • A sharp object or piece of food
  • Accidentally biting your tongue
Tongue injury or wound

In these cases, it’s normal to feel pain in the area for some time afterward. As the injury heals, the pain will subside. In the meantime, avoid hot, spicy, or acidic foods that might make it worse.

2. Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers and sores can affect your tongue. While the word “ulcer” may sound alarming, mouth ulcers are quite common. Canker sores are a common type of oral ulcer.

Sometimes mouth ulcers are caused by trauma, such as biting your tongue or lip. Canker sores, on the other hand, don’t always have a clear cause. They often occur in people who are completely healthy otherwise and may come and go over a period of 1 to 2 weeks.

Canker sores are more likely to develop on the inside of your cheeks or the base of your tongue but can sometimes affect other areas. While painful, they’re generally not a sign of anything serious.

3. Food Sensitivity

Tongue pain can be a symptom of a food allergy or sensitivity. Some people experience pain and tongue swelling as part of an allergic reaction. Common food allergies include eggs, dairy, shellfish, and nuts.

Even if you aren’t allergic to a food, it could still cause tongue pain. For example, spicy food can feel painful on your tongue, depending on the spice level and your sensitivity to it. Highly acidic foods like sour candy can also make your tongue sore.

4. Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is an oral yeast infection that can cause a burning sensation on your tongue. The yeast is a fungus from the genus Candida. 

symptoms of oral thrush

Symptoms of oral thrush (or candidiasis) include:

  • White patches on your tongue or in other parts of your mouth or throat
  • Burning pain around the patches
  • Dry mouth
  • Lowered sense of taste
  • Difficulty swallowing

Candida yeasts are common, and they can live in your gut and mouth without causing any harm. But if your immune system is weak, they can multiply, causing an infection. Poor oral hygiene can also be a contributing factor.

5. Other Oral Infections

Bacterial and viral infections can also cause tongue pain. These include syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD).

Illustration of The human papilloma virus or warts on tongue

Syphilis and HFMD also cause rashes on the hands and feet. You may have additional symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Malaise (feeling sick)
  • Loss of appetite

See your doctor if you notice unusual sores or lesions on or around your mouth or tongue, especially if they’re accompanied by symptoms like those above.

6. Nutrient Deficiency

Sometimes tongue pain is a symptom of a vitamin deficiency. This may be the case if you have excessively low levels of iron, vitamin B12 (cobalamin), or vitamin B9 (folate).

These deficiencies can also cause changes in tongue appearance. You may notice that your tongue is redder, smoother, or larger than normal. It might also have scalloped edges from being pressed against your teeth.

Other vitamin B or iron deficiency symptoms include:

  • Dizziness or shakiness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Tingling sensations in your hands, feet, or face
  • Increased heart rate

3 Less Common Causes of Tongue Pain

The following are less common conditions that can cause tongue pain. However, see your doctor immediately if you notice symptoms suggesting one of the following:

1. Tongue Cancer

Oral cancer can affect your tongue. The main symptom is sores that don’t seem to heal or worsen over time. You might also notice pain when chewing or swallowing. 

However, tongue cancer may not cause any pain early on. The first sign may be a lump or growth in your mouth or on your tongue. If you notice any unusual changes to the appearance of your tongue, see your doctor, even if you don’t experience pain.

2. Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS)

Burning mouth syndrome, as the name suggests, involves chronic mouth pain. It may be accompanied by a foul taste or a sensation of dry mouth.

The causes of burning mouth syndrome aren’t fully understood, but menopausal and postmenopausal women are most likely to be affected. In some cases, it’s caused by nerve irritation or damage (neuralgia).

There is no specific treatment or cure, but it isn’t life-threatening. It can be managed with professional care.

3. Other Tongue Conditions

inflamed tongue bump

Other less common conditions that may cause tongue pain include:

  • Oral lichen planus — This is an oral inflammatory condition that causes lacy white patches to appear on your tongue or in other areas of your mouth. There isn’t a cure, but it can be managed with proper treatment.
  • Leukoplakia — This refers to thick white patches on your tongue, gums, or other parts of your mouth. These patches can sometimes lead to cancer and are more common in smokers.
  • Lie bumps, or inflamed taste buds — Also known as transient lingual papillitis, these tiny bumps appear red or inflamed. They can be caused by stress, infections, and other underlying issues.
  • Geographic tongue — This benign condition causes parts of your tongue to become inflamed and lose their taste buds. This condition can be managed with medication if needed and may resolve on its own.

When to Seek Medical Help

See a doctor if you have severe tongue pain that doesn’t go away or notice any unusual symptoms or changes in other parts of your body.

In many cases, tongue pain can be managed at home and will resolve on its own. But some causes of tongue pain require medical attention. Your doctor can help determine what’s causing your pain and establish a course of treatment.

How Do I Know What is Causing My Tongue Pain?

Because tongue pain can have a variety of causes, it’s important to take note of any other symptoms. This will help you narrow down the potential reasons for your tongue pain. It will also help your doctor arrive at a professional diagnosis.

Other Symptoms to Look Out For

If the cause is something other than a local injury or ulcer, your tongue pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Changes in the appearance of your tongue
  • Pain in other areas of your mouth
  • A rash on your hands, feet, or anywhere else on your body
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Malaise

Treatment Options for Tongue Pain

Because tongue pain has so many possible causes, treatment options vary. They range from easy home remedies to a variety of professional medical treatments.

Home Remedies

If your tongue pain is caused by a local injury or ulcer, it will subside on its own, usually within a few days. 

In the meantime, you can help your tongue heal by:

  • Avoiding hot, spicy, or acidic foods or drinks that may irritate the injury
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene to keep any oral wounds from becoming infected
  • Drinking cold water, which may soothe the injury

You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen to ease your tongue pain. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

Medical Treatments

If your tongue pain is caused by an underlying condition, your doctor will likely recommend professional treatment. 

After a proper diagnosis, they’ll prescribe a custom treatment plan. This may include:

  • Antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal medications
  • Pain relievers
  • Topical medications to relieve pain or inflammation
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Corticosteroids or immune response medications
  • Hormone therapy
  • Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery (if the cause is oral cancer)

The exact treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the underlying cause.

How to Prevent Tongue Pain

Not all of the causes of tongue pain can be prevented. However, you can make it less likely to occur by:

  • Avoiding excessively hot foods or drinks
  • Limiting spicy or acidic foods that you may be sensitive to
  • Staying away from foods you know you’re allergic to
  • Maintaining a good oral hygiene routine
  • Eating a balanced diet to avoid deficiencies and keep your immune system strong
  • Limiting smoking and alcohol intake 

Summary

Pain on the tip of your tongue is usually a sign of local trauma that will heal on its own. You may have accidentally burned, bitten, or cut your tongue. Canker sores can also cause tongue pain despite not being a sign of anything serious.

However, tongue pain can also be caused by an infection, a nutritional deficiency, or a less common medical condition. If you notice additional symptoms or changes in how your tongue looks, it’s best to see a doctor.

Last updated on April 26, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 26, 2024
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).
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  2. Porter, Stephen, et al. “My tongue hurts.” British Dental Journal, 2022.
  3. Raman, Praveena. “Tongue Lesions as an Oral Diagnostic Challenge for a Primary Care Physician- A Clinical Case series.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 2022.
  4. Vila, Taissa, et al. “Oral Candidiasis: A Disease of Opportunity.” Journal of Fungi, 2020.
  5. Fortuna, Giulio, et al. “Oral Dysesthesia.” Contemporary Oral Medicine, 2019.
  6. Korytowska, Magdalena, et al. “Patient-reported pain after surgical removal of leukoplakia – an observational 1-year follow-up study.” Acta Odontologica Scandinavica, 2021.
  7. Reyes-Sevilla, Marisol. “Is Burning Mouth Syndrome Based on a Physiological Mechanism which Resembles that of Neuropathic Pain?” Odovtos International Journal of Dental Sciences, 2020.
  8. Gonzalez, Mario. “Tongue Cancer.” StatPearls, 2023.
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