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Transient Lingual Papillitis: Location, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Have you ever experienced small, red, slightly painful bumps near the tip of your tongue that last for a few days, then disappear? You might have been experiencing transient lingual papillitis (TLP), a condition that has no known causes. Transient means it's temporary, and lingual papillitis refers to painful inflammation of the tongue's papillae, which are the small bumps on your tongue's surface. But don’t worry about this mysterious condition—it’s common, treatable, and typically goes away on its own.

Location and Symptoms

TLP generally affects the tongue’s tip, either in an isolated area or on both sides. The enlarged bumps may appear as the tongue's normal color or red, white, or yellow. Researchers have found that the affected papillae don't contain taste buds.

The condition comes on suddenly, causing acute pain, burning, tingling, or itching. It can also cause dry mouth, difficulty eating, and discomfort while eating hot foods. The inflammation and symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks but typically resolve in a few days.

Causes and Risk Factors

Transient lingual papillitis can affect males and females as early as three years old. In many cases, the cause is unknown. Some dental professionals believe the inflammation is due to chronic irritation from teeth, calculus (tartar), fillings, or dental appliances. Stress, poor nutrition, smoking, and alcohol use may also be initiating factors.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Fortunately, the diagnosis of transient lingual papillitis does not require a biopsy. In fact, your dental professional can make a diagnosis based on a visual exam and your health history alone. The severity of your symptoms helps your dental professional determine the appropriate treatment for relief.

Transient lingual papillitis treatment is relatively simple. You can manage most cases with warm salt water rinses and over-the-counter pain medications. Your dental professional may recommend topical local anesthetics or topical corticosteroids if your TLP is very painful. Most often, though, the condition resolves on its own in just a few days and doesn't return.

Your dentist and dental hygienist are experts on the tongue. If you develop any tongue pain or changes in the appearance of your tongue, schedule a visit. They can give you an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment for your needs—and you can get back to smiling more confidently with no tongue troubles.

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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