Various bumps, patches, and spots in your mouth can be harmless, but sometimes, they can give a clue of what’s going on with your overall health revealed by variety of tongue diseases.
Unfortunately, infections, stress or taking medications, can leave their unwanted mark on your tongue. That’s why you need to check up your tongue appearance when brushing teeth and to make decision whether you should see your doctor or your dentist.
In following lines you will see which are the most common tongue diseases and how to deal with them successfully.
What Are Common Tongue Problems
As many of us have experienced a tongue injury once in a while (even an accidental bite tongue), it can be quite painful, since tongue is instrumental part of our lives through eating and speaking.
A tongue condition is actually a very good measure of the overall well-being of the body.
These are the most common tongue problems people experience:
- taste problems
- movement difficulties
- increased size
- growths (bumps),
- other surface abnormalities
What Causes Tongue Diseases
Well, there are a variety of causes for having tongue diseases, either harmless or serious, while some individuals can be born with a tongue condition that is totally harmless.
Additionally, a tongue problem may come as a result of an underlying medical condition, or, smoking and drinking alcohol that may cause a tongue cancer.
White Tongue Condition
White tongue can occur when there is a buildup or coating of bacteria and debris on the surface of the tongue due to:
- mild dehydration or
- dryness of the mouth
Presence of white spots or patches can also be seen when having infection, irritation, or chronic inflammation of the surface of the tongue.
Some oral infections, like Candida yeast infections (oral thrush), are characterized by having a white tongue.
And most often, a white tongue could be caused by a removable coating of food debris or bacterial plaque.
Otherwise, the following are some common causes of white tongue condition:
- oral thrush
- oral lichen planus
- hairy leukoplakia
- linea alba
Let your dentist know about any white patches when you notice them.
This is caused by an overgrowth of yeast fungus in the mouth. The white patches can be scraped off, and you can have red tongue surface again.
Illnesses, medications, stress, and antibiotics are major cause of white tongue condition, because they are causing disbalance of natural bacteria presence in the mouth.
This condition is characterized by having white patches unable to be scraped off, and may be related to chronic irritation in the mouth.
Most common factor for leukoplakia is use of tobacco.
Sometimes, you will notice the patches on both sides of the tongue, and those could be related to constant rubbing next to the lower teeth.
Monitor these changes, as they may lead to possible oral cancer.
Oral Lichen Planus
This is a chronic inflammatory condition caused by an autoimmune response.
It is characterized by a white lace-like pattern called reticular lichen planus. Regular monitoring of this condition is recommended for any changes that (although rare) could lead to oral cancer.
You may need a biopsy.
Hairy Tongue Disease – Hairy Leukoplakia
If your tongue has a coating that looks like black, brown, or white fur, you might have hairy tongue.
Those “hairs” are proteins that turn normal and small bumps into longer strands, where food and bacteria get caught.
This should go away when you brush or scrape your tongue.
If you notice hairy, white patches that you can’t scrape off, test for infection with viruses like Epstein-Barr or HIV.
Linea alba is also a part of tongue diseases and it is a benign condition that is characterized by a thin white line at the side borders of the tongue.
It is caused by the thickening of the epithelium due to trauma or irritation from chewing, and no treatment is necessary.
Strawberry Tongue Disease – Red Tongue
A strawberry-red tongue could be an early sign of Kawasaki disease, which is a rare, serious illness that inflames blood vessels all over the body, most often in children.
It’s also a symptom of having scarlet fever.
If your red tongue is also smooth and you have pain in your mouth, it might be a sign that your body doesn’t have enough vitamin B3.
Also, some acidic foods can cause temporary redness and tongue discomfort.
A black tongue is usually a harmless condition that can be caused by variety of medications, smoking, poor oral hygiene, soft diet or dry mouth.
The underlying cause is thought to be a change in the normal bacteria presence after antibiotic treatment, or use of products containing bismuth.
Treatment involve better oral hygiene, quit smoking and improved diet.
Swelling (or tongue enlargement) can be caused by allergies, medications, injuries, or by medical condition such as amylodosis, which is an abnormal protein produced in your bone marrow, and can be deposited in any tissue or organ.
If you experience an allergic reaction from food, medications or bee sting causing tongue swelling, you should seek emergency care if your breathing become compromised.
Tongue Burning Sensation
If your have drank a hot cup of something and tastes metallic or bitter, you may have burning mouth syndrome.
You’ve definitely burned your tongue and irritated the nerves there, although, some health problems like dry mouth, infections, acid reflux, and diabetes may cause the same burning feeling as well.
There are people who are also overly sensitive to toothpaste, mouthwash, candy, or gum, and they can also make their mouth burn.
Smooth and Glossy Tongue
A tongue that has no small bumps on the top may look glossy red, and it can occur if you don’t get enough nutrients such as iron, folic acid, or B 12 vitamins.
Infections, celiac disease, or some medications can also cause this problem as well.
This is the most common tongue condition found in 14% of the U.S. population.
It is a benign condition that appears as bare or smooth areas on the back of the tongue. It may be affected just one area, or several areas varying from time to time.
It is usually painless, however, the smooth areas may have higher sensitivity to spicy, or acidic foods.
No treatment is recommended.
It is the second most common tongue condition, and is characterized by a deepening of normal tongue fissures and is usually associated while aging.
No treatment is required, unless food debris and bacteria get trapped and cause inflammation of the tongue’s papillae.
Gentle brushing is enough to alleviate the problem.
Small, painful and reddish bumps on your tongue can come and go on their own.
Sometimes, a single, painful bump at the tip of your tongue can occur known as “lie bump”, due to tongue irritation.
A virus can also cause lots of little bumps showing on the tip and sides of your tongue.
And if you notice a lump on, or, under your tongue that hurts and doesn’t go away, go to a doctor or dentist immediately, because they will check you for oral cancer possibility.
Mouth and Tongue Sores
We all have spots, bumps, and colors on our tongue that are harmless.
But it’s always good to know the signs that might point to cancer:
- sores that don’t heal
- tongue pain
- trouble chewing or swallowing
If these symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you should immediately see your doctor or dentist.
Most often people can experience tong pain due to:
- aphthous ulcers
- oral herpes
- poorly fitting dentures
- irritation from dental work
Whatever you see it’s not something you have often and it lasts longer than usual, go to your dentist for further check up.
You Can’t Feel The Taste Of Food
Common causes of distortion of the sense of taste include medications, cancer therapy, dry mouth, gum disease, cold or flu.
However, this can be a temporary condition and should resolve once the cause is fully eliminated.
Also, cancer therapy involving chemotherapy and radiation to the head and neck area can greatly affect taste.
Radiation therapy can damage taste buds and salivary glands, and decreased flow of saliva causes a dry mouth and deepen the problem.
Damage to taste buds through radiation therapy may require more time for healing, and taste may slowly return highly depending on the amount of damage coming from radiation therapy.
For some people, using artificial saliva and zinc supplementation may help in restoring taste.
You Can’t Move Your Tongue
Tongue movement problems can be often caused by nerve damage in a post- stroke condition, or post-surgery nerve damage.
Limited tongue movement can significantly affect your eating, swallowing, and of course – your speech.
Depending on the extent of nerve damage, physical therapy may help in regaining control of the tongue movement.
How Can Tongue Diseases and Problems Be Diagnosed
During examination, information is collected based on symptoms and clinical appearance.
Also imaging may be used for better diagnosis such as MRI, computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET).
However, if there isn’t a unique sign or symptom to distinguish the tongue problem, a differential diagnosis is reviewed, as a systematic process of weighing the probability of one disease versus other diseases accountable for having tongue problem.
For tongue diseases pointing out that it might be cancer, a special dye is used called toluidine blue during the initial evaluation.
Staining from this solution is able to help in early identification of precancerous or cancerous lesions.
Treatments of tongue diseases always depend on the underlying cause in first place.
For some tongue issues no treatment is necessary, whereas for other conditions, medications, surgery, or radiation, treatment may be needed.
However, you should know that some tongue diseases are preventable by practicing good oral hygiene and eating a healthy and nutritionally well balanced diet.
If others can’t be prevented at all, symptoms can be successfully managed with the right treatment.
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