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Sore Tongue

Sore Tongue

If your tongue is sore because you accidentally bit it or burned it, then you need not be concerned. However, if you are not sure about what is behind the problem, then visiting a general practitioner or a dentist is imperative.
Rajib Singha
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
A sore or painful tongue can interfere with eating, drinking and speaking. Fortunately, not many cases of this problem are associated with serious conditions. But cases which are serious, need prompt medical attention. Your tongue may be sore or hurting because of reasons ranging from a mild injury to the tongue to something as serious as iron-deficiency anemia. Recognizing the symptoms that may accompany the soreness in your tongue, may help you pinpoint or at least have an idea of the underlying cause of the problem.

The rest of the following outlines the possible causes of tongue soreness, and lists some treatment measures that can help you manage and reduce the symptoms, and recover faster.

Why Is Your Tongue Sore?
Conditions which are commonly associated with a sore tongue and require immediate medical attention include:

Iron-deficiency Anemia
This illness refers to a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body. It is a common type of anemia, where the body does not have enough iron to produce red blood cells. According to experts, a sore tongue indicates a worsened stage of this condition. Other than tongue soreness, iron-deficiency anemia also causes:
  •  Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Brittle nails
  • Pale skin
  • Headaches
  • Labored breathing

Oral Thrush
Oral thrush is a common yeast infection of the mouth, caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. The infection causes painful lesions on the tongue, inner cheek, palate, gums and tonsils. These lesions are creamy white in appearance, and easily bleed when irritated. Other symptoms are:
  • A cottony feeling in the mouth
  • Red and cracked corners of the mouth
  • Burning sensation on the tongue

Canker Sores
Canker sores are ulcers that occur inside the mouth including the tongue. Also known as aphthous ulcers, these sores are shallow and painful.

You can detect canker sores by their round or oval shape, with red, inflamed borders. Their center is usually white or yellow. Most people report of having a burning or tingling sensation before the sores appear.

Geographic Tongue (Benign Migratory Glossitis)
Geographic tongue is a harmless medical condition that may cause mild soreness or pain in your tongue. The condition causes smooth, red patches to develop on the side or top of the tongue. These patches are irregularly shaped, and have white borders that are slightly raised. The map-like appearance of these patches gives the condition its name.

Not everyone with this condition may experience a burning or painful sensation. In most cases, this sensation occurs when the person eats acidic, spicy or hot foods.

Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia
A common cause of severe tongue soreness or pain is a condition called glossopharyngeal neuralgia. The condition is also responsible for causing severe pain in the throat, ear, and tonsils. The pain usually occurs on one side of the affected area, and may last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

If you have glossopharyngeal neuralgia, then sometimes you may trigger the pain by chewing, laughing, coughing, speaking or swallowing.

Mouth Cancer
A rare but serious cause of a sore tongue is mouth cancer. Cancerous cells may develop in the tongue, lips, cheek lining, gums, roof or floor of the mouth. Symptoms that may indicate mouth cancer include:
  • A sore, lump or ulcer that does not heal. It is painless at first, but burns or becomes painful as the cancer advances
  • Pain and stiffness in the jaw; swallowing worsens such pain
  • Patches (red, white or red and white) on the lining of the mouth or the tongue
  • A persisting neck pain
  • Swelling in the mouth; usually lasts more than three weeks
  • Loosening of teeth for no apparent reason

Tongue Soreness is also Associated With:
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Excessive smoking
  • Enlarged papillae
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
What You Can Do
A sore tongue is an outcome of something else troubling the body. Your doctor will perform certain tests to determine the underlying cause of the problem, and recommend a treatment plan that suits you the best. Apart from following your doctor's advice, you can manage the condition at home with the help of the following self-care measures.

» When your tongue hurts or feels irritated, do a salt water gargle. Add 1 teaspoon of table salt in a cup of lukewarm water, and gargle. You can also add ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the solution.

» Place a wet tea bag on the sore spot of the tongue.

» If you have oral thrush, then eating unsweetened yogurt may help reduce the soreness and other symptoms. Eating yogurt may not cure such infections, but it may encourage a speedy recovery.

» Dryness and irritation can aggravate the soreness in the affected area of the tongue. Coat the sore area with glycerin to keep it moist, and reduce irritation and burning sensation.

» If you suspect iron-deficiency anemia as the culprit behind your sore tongue, then include iron rich foods in your diet. Good choices include meat, vegetables, whole grains, and cereals that are fortified with iron. Increase intake of vitamin C, and eat more of steamed vegetables to encourage better absorption of iron from the foods you eat.

» If you have canker sores, then you can take the following measures:
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water, and dab it on the sores.
  • Avoid spicy and acidic foods.
  • Apply small ice chips to the sores, and wait until they have melted a bit. The ice helps numb the affected area thus reducing pain and irritation.
  • Mix ½ cup of warm water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and swish the solution around in your mouth. Don't swallow the solution.
  • Dabbing a small amount of milk of magnesia on the sores also provides relief.
» You can also take over-the-counter medicines to relieve the soreness in your tongue. However, if the patient is a child, then better consult a doctor before using any medication.

» Avoid putting any kind of pressure on the sore tongue. For this, you can use a toothbrush with soft bristles while brushing.

Mostly, a sore tongue does not indicate anything severe. But if you notice that the problem is persisting, is getting worse, or accompanied by other abnormal symptoms, then consider a prompt medical visit to be of utmost importance. As cancer is also one of the possible causes behind tongue soreness, it is better to err on the side of caution.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.