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Everything About Atrophic Glossitis

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Abnormal tongue conditions can look alarming. Atrophic glossitis is one of these conditions. Luckily, with a dental professional on your side, they can put your mind at ease and get your tongue back to its normal self.

Spotting a Tongue Problem

Glossitis is a general term referring to all conditions that cause inflammation of the tongue. Atrophic glossitis occurs when the small doorknob-like projections on the tongue, called papillae, are worn away. The condition affects both the filiform and fungiform papillae, altering the color and texture of the tongue. This condition is also known as Hunter glossitis, Moeller glossitis, or Möller-Hunter glossitis.

Its symptoms typically include a glossy, shiny appearance on the dorsal surface of the tongue, sometimes with a bald or smooth area. The tongue may appear to have large polka dots. Burning of the tongue and discomfort may also result from glossitis.

What Causes Tongue Inflammation?

Glossitis can be caused by various irritants, such as:

  • Acidic beverages or foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Allergic reactions to food or medications
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Trauma to the mouth (like biting the tongue)
  • Other viral or systemic conditions

Often, glossitis can result from more than one of these conditions at a time, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Additionally, glossitis can be hereditary and therefore have no defined cause.


The management and treatment of atrophic glossitis involve eliminating the source of irritation, disease, trauma, or allergic reaction. As with any abnormal mouth condition, a prompt appointment with a dental professional is recommended for assessment and treatment options. In some cases, additional evaluation, testing and long-term monitoring of the condition may be necessary to rule out malignant lesions. Oral care specialists want to be certain all abnormal areas of the tongue are monitored, since some oral lesions can be early manifestations of systemic conditions.

Your dental provider is the best source for recommendations and referrals for addressing oral complications, so don't hesitate to make an appointment!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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