Tongue Problems 101: Signs, Causes, Types And Treatment

Friends sticking their tongues out

Your tongue may not be very big, but it has some major responsibilities. Without it, eating and speaking would be very tricky. Your tongue's condition also affects your ability to breathe and may influence how pleasant (or unpleasant) your breath smells. From time to time, the tongue may be affected by problems preventing it from doing a good job. Tongue problems can take many forms and result from various factors.

Signs of a Tongue Problem

As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out, tongue problems can manifest in many different ways and show a variety of symptoms. Pain in the tongue area is a common sign of a tongue problem or disorder. Furthermore, a tongue problem can affect a person's ability to taste foods. The tongue can also swell, change colour, or show changes in its texture. In some cases, people with tongue problems have difficulty moving their tongue, which can make speaking and eating very challenging. Occasionally, bad breath can be a sign of tongue trouble.

Causes of Tongue Problems

A variety of factors can cause tongue problems. The specific cause usually determines how long the problem will last and how easy it is to treat. For example, tongue disorders caused by germs or a fungus usually clear up after a course of antibiotics or antifungal medicines. On the other hand, problems caused by a nutritional deficiency, such as anemia tongue, usually clear up once the deficiency has been resolved. Other common causes of tongue problems include dietary choices, cancer, nerve damage, autoimmune disorders, trauma to the tongue (such as biting it), and hormonal changes.

Types of Tongue Problems

Here follow a few common tongue problems:

  • Thrush. A type of yeast infection, thrush leads to the development of bumpy white patches on the tongue.
  • Burning mouth syndrome. The exact cause of burning mouth syndrome, which creates a burning sensation on the tongue and other areas of the mouth, is unknown. It could be caused by nerve damage, allergies, nutritional deficiencies or hormonal changes.
  • Black hairy tongue. Black hairy tongue is usually more of a cosmetic problem than a medical one. People with the condition don't shed the dead tongue cells from the top of the tongue, leading to build-up, according to the Mayo Clinic. After a while, the tongue appears to be coated with dark hair. This issue can develop after a person takes a course of antibiotics or as a result of a diet comprising soft foods that don't scrub the surface of the tongue.
  • Oral cancer. Some types of oral cancer develop on the tongue. Symptoms of tongue cancer can include pain in the tongue, a spot that forms on the tongue, and difficulty moving the tongue or jaw.
  • Glossitis. Glossitis is the swelling of the tongue.
  • Geographic tongue. Geographic tongue is a benign disorder causing a map-like appearance of the tongue due to inflammation. Although the condition can persist for weeks, most cases cause no discomfort and require no treatment. In some cases, it is a sign of another tongue problem, such as thrush. In other cases, it is independent of any other conditions.
  • Treating Tongue Problems

    The treatment of tongue problems depends on the type of problem and its cause. For example, oral thrush is generally treated with an antifungal medication, often in liquid form. Correcting a nutritional problem or changing your diet may help to treat burning mouth syndrome. Improved oral hygiene can remedy black hairy tongue. Treating tongue cancer depends in part on the size of the tumor. In some cases, surgically removing the cancer is possible. In other instances, treatment including radiation or chemotherapy may also be recommended.

    If you suspect that you have a tongue problem, schedule an appointment with your dentist for an examination and diagnosis. They will look at your tongue and take a swab or culture to determine the cause of the issue. Keeping your tongue clean will help ensure a healthy mouth.


This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and germs can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.

Keep your teeth clean with an oral health routine.

Establishing an oral health routine is important for a healthy mouth. Try one of our oral health products to help you establish a schedule.