Sore Tongue Tips

Updated May 10, 2017

The tongue is composed of a mass of muscles covered with a mucous membrane. The purpose of the tongue is to help you chew food, swallow, form words and taste. If you've ever accidentally bitten your tongue, or developed a canker sore, you know how irritating having a sore tongue can be. Tongue pain can interfere with eating, drinking and even speaking. Though some causes of soreness are related to chronic conditions, like a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or neurological problems, many are temporary injuries or flare ups that will clear on their own in a few days.

Causes of a Sore Tongue

Some of the most common causes for tongue irritation are accidental bites, cold and canker sores, herpes simplex, poorly fitting dentures, smoking-related irritability, infections, diabetic neuropathy, dental problems and cancer. Hypothyroidism could cause your tongue to swell. Hyperthyroidism and multiple sclerosis can prompt tremors and discomfort. And a dry tongue, resulting from a yeast infection (oral candidiasis), antibiotics and dehydration can also result in some mild pain or irritation.

Temporary Conditions

The National Institutes of Health reports that minor infections and irritation cause most tongue-related complaints. Canker sores and bites cause lesions to appear on your tongue. Though painful, canker sores are not contagious, and doctors have not yet found what causes these lesions. The Mayo Clinic reports that sores and bites should heal within a few days. If one persists, however, you should see your doctor or dentist to determine if an infection has set in. Good oral hygiene and a well-balanced diet will also go a long way in preventing sores and infections.

Herpes Simplex

Similar in appearance to a canker sore, herpes simplex is a chronic virus that has no cure. The University of Virginia Health System reports that between 50 and 80 per cent of adults in the U.S. have this virus. Herpes simplex is characterised by the periodic appearance of a tongue blister followed by periods of dormancy. For some people, outbreaks occur rarely, while others have frequent flare ups. An STD, herpes is transmitted through sexual contact. The best way to prevent contracting herpes is to avoid physical contact with a person who has an outbreak. To treat herpes, keep the infected area clean and prescribed antibiotics can prevent infections.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a condition that causes burning in the mouth and on the tongue. An article presented by Colgate and provided by the Mayo Clinic indicates that BMS has been associated with menopause, nutritional deficiencies, medications and dry mouth. Recent research has linked this condition with nerve damage. With each disorder comes a different treatment plan. For dry mouth, medication can help reverse your symptoms. Also, drinking fluids and eating certain foods can initiate the production of saliva. For nerve damage, benzodiazepines such as clonazepam, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline or nortriptyline, or anticonvulsants such as gabapentin (Neurontin) have helped patients. Some people need to avoid certain foods that cause an allergic reaction. If your symptoms persist or do not respond to self-treatment, be sure to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Oral Cancer

The Mayo Clinic reports that cancer of the tongue is a common form of oral cancer. It is also very serious. Smokers and people with alcohol-dependence issues are more likely to develop this form of oral cancer. Tongue cancer appears as a white spot, lump or ulcer. When diagnosed early, tongue cancer can be cured. Treatment involves either one or a combination of treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery.

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About the Author

Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.