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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.
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.
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).
A local injury is the most common reason for pain at the tip of your tongue. This could be caused by:
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.
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.
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.
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 (or candidiasis) include:
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.
Bacterial and viral infections can also cause tongue pain. These include syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD).
Syphilis and HFMD also cause rashes on the hands and feet. You may have additional symptoms, such as:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Other less common conditions that may cause tongue pain include:
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.
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.
If the cause is something other than a local injury or ulcer, your tongue pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
Because tongue pain has so many possible causes, treatment options vary. They range from easy home remedies to a variety of professional medical treatments.
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:
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.
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:
The exact treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the underlying cause.
Not all of the causes of tongue pain can be prevented. However, you can make it less likely to occur by:
In most cases, tongue pain is caused by a minor issue that will resolve on its own. However, see a doctor if you have persistent tongue pain despite not having bitten or burned your tongue.
Additionally, seek medical attention if the pain is accompanied by unusual changes in your tongue’s appearance or symptoms develop in other parts of your body.
These can be signs of an issue requiring professional diagnosis and treatment.
Tongue pain caused by a local injury typically goes away after a few days. Canker sores may take a bit longer but tend not to last more than 10 days. Less common causes of tongue pain can last longer.
In the vast majority of cases, no. Oral cancer can cause tongue pain, but it’s often painless in the early stages.
See a doctor if you notice a lump or growth on your tongue or other unusual symptoms.
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.
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