Common Causes of Sore Tongue

In most cases, a sore tongue is harmless, but sometimes it can cause serious discomfort when you talk, drink, or eat. Learn what to look for, such as deficiencies or diseases, to know when it’s time to see a doctor. Here’s everything you need to know.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 13, 2020

Cold Sore On Tongue - Immunity - 1MD

A sore tongue can be hard to ignore. You will feel discomfort each time you talk, drink, or eat. The constant pain can cause you more than discomfort, and you may end up worrying that something else is seriously wrong.

In most cases, a sore tongue is harmless and not a reason for serious concern. There are, however, some conditions associated with a sore tongue that require a visit to your doctor. 

Common Causes of Sore Tongue

The most common causes for a sore tongue include:

Trauma: Biting your tongue hurts and is something almost everyone has experienced. You can also burn your tongue with hot foods or drinks, causing temporary trauma and pain. Many people also grind their teeth or clench them, which irritates the sides of the tongue, also causing pain. Trauma to the tongue is painful but will go away on its own, but be aware that the pain will remain until your tongue is fully healed. 

Inflammation: Inflammation can cause the bumps (papillae) on your tongue to become enlarged. These are your taste buds, and when swollen, they are painful. Infection such as oral thrush can cause this condition, as can syphilis, and human papillomavirus. Oral thrush is the most common cause of tongue inflammation and is common among babies, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems. 

Mouth ulcers: If the pain on your tongue is located in a specific spot, and you notice a small round sore, then an oral ulcer or canker sore could be to blame. There are several reasons these sores can appear, including biting your tongue, stress, stopping smoking, or eating something hard or sharp. Mouth ulcers typically go away within two weeks, and over the counter pain medications can help ease any discomfort.

Food sensitivity: An allergy or sensitivity to certain foods can cause pain in your tongue. Raw fruits and vegetables along with tree nuts, are the most common causes of oral allergy syndrome, and you will notice an itchy mouth, sore throat, swollen, and burning tongue. These reactions typically start in older children, teenagers, and young adults, and depending on severity, you may need to carry medication with you. 

Smoking: Both smoking and quitting smoking can cause a sore tongue. Smoking also increases your risk of developing mouth cancer, but when you quit, you can significantly reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Additional Causes of a Sore Tongue

The causes above are the most common causes of a sore tongue or tongue inflammation. Below is a list of additional causes that are less common, and you can speak to your doctor about them if none of the reasons above are the known cause. 

Vitamin deficiency: Deficiencies in vitamin B-12, folate, and iron can cause a sore tongue as well as a smooth tongue. Low levels of zinc will cause a burning tongue. Along with the pain in your tongue, vitamin deficiencies will also cause fatigue, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, muscle weakness, and unexplained weight loss. You can treat vitamin deficiencies by following a balanced diet and taking supplements as needed. 

Burning mouth syndrome: A burning tongue or burning mouth sensation can be a symptom of burning mouth syndrome. It can feel as though you have eaten very spicy foods and have scalded your tongue. You will also notice thirst, changes in taste, and a dry mouth. Burning mouth syndrome develops over time and suddenly. This condition is typically treated with pain relievers and dietary changes.

Neuralgia: When there is no obvious cause, recurring tongue pain can be caused by neuralgia. The pain experienced will be intense and feel like tiny electric shocks. The cause of neuralgia is not known, but it is strongly associated with throat and neck cancer. The pain is most often triggered by swallowing, and medications are required to help with the nerve pain. 

Lichen planus: Lichen planus is a skin condition that causes a rash on your skin and white lacy patches on your tongue. Your tongue is also painful, especially in move severe cases. You may also notice a burning sensation on your tongue when you eat or drink, and treatment is typically ongoing. 

Bechet’s disease: This disease causes blood vessel inflammation through your entire body and is a very rare reason for a sore tongue. This disease also causes mouth sores similar to canker sores, joint pain, inflammation in your eyes, digestive issues, and acne-like sores on your skin.  

Moeller’s glossitis: Also known as “smooth tongue,” Moeller’s glossitis is inflammation of the tongue. It causes pain or a burning sensation, and your tongue can become smooth and glossy. This appearance is a result of the atrophy of your taste buds. The most common cause of this condition is a vitamin B-12 deficiency, anemia, or celiac disease.

Pemphigus Vulgaris: This is a rare disorder that causes painful sores in your mouth as well as on your genitals. The sores appear as blisters, and they can rupture and ooze, becoming infected. It can be difficult to eat and swallow with these sores, but treatment with medications can help ease discomfort. 

Oral cancer: Oral cancer is a very rare cause of tongue pain. Should you notice a painful lump or sore that does not go away, then you should bring it to your doctor’s attention in the event it is cancer.

Sjogren syndrome: This rare autoimmune condition causes inflammation in your salivary glands, which causes dry eyes and dry mouth. As a result of an overly dry mouth, you can experience tongue pain. You can also develop tongue fissures and ulcers. When the inflammation associated with the disease is controlled, the tongue pain will be relieved.

Natural Treatment for Sore Tongue

Inflammation that is linked to allergies or another health condition can cause a sore tongue. Medications may be required for the underlying condition, but you can treat and reduce inflammation naturally. This will help relieve the symptoms and pain that interfere with your daily life.

Inflammation is best treated with preventative measures. Because your gut bacteria are part of your immune system, supporting their health is essential to this. Probiotics help to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, which prevents inflammation.

An imbalance in the bacteria means that harmful strains have colonized, and this increases your risk of disease and infection. Look for probiotics with the Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains for the best protection against inflammation.

Zinc is an additional ingredient that can reduce inflammation and works directly to reduce sore tongue. Zinc deficiency has been linked to a burning tongue condition, but this can be reversed with adequate zinc intake. Zinc can also reduce the inflammation and pain associated with canker sores.

When to See Your Doctor

You can reach out to your doctor or dentist if you notice any changes in your mouth or on your tongue. Changes in taste, texture, or color can indicate a problem. 

Any sores that cause pain and last for longer than two weeks also need medical attention. Most tongue pain is not anything to worry about, but you should have persistent pain looked at to make sure nothing more serious is causing the discomfort. 

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