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8 Common Causes of Spots on Tongue

The tongue has lots of mostly unnoticeable spots on it for sensation and taste. If these spots are of unusual color, cause irritation and there are other symptoms accompanying them, there can be a health problem.

Causes of Spots on Tongue

There are various causes of spots on the tongue:

  1. Lie Bumps

    Transient lingual papillitis is commonly referred to as lie bumps. It leads to red and white bumps on the tongue. These bumps are enlarged or inflamed papillae and can affect one or several papillae. Along with inflammation and enlargement, other symptoms include:

    • Pain
    • Burning or itching sensation
    • Greater sensitivity to heat

    Lie bumps can occur due to injury to the tongue, for example when the person accidentally bites the tongue. It can also occur due to psychological stress and poor nutrition.

    Lie bumps can heal within a week without treatment.

    Lie bumps can be avoided with the following tips:

    • Avoiding spicy foods
    • Brushing teeth with care
    • Not sucking sweets
    • Avoiding hot liquids or foods
  2. Tongue Burn

    A person can burn the tongue by eating or drinking hot drinks or food. Due to tongue burn, blisters appear as fluid-filled spots on the tongue. These blisters break and can delay healing. Healing can be promoted by preventing the blisters from breaking. This can be done by taking care while brushing, eating, and drinking.(1)

    A burn on the tongue does not usually require treatment. Infection can be prevented by keeping the mouth clean.

  3. Canker Sores

    Canker sores are small ulcers that look white and yellow and are known to appear on the tongue, inside of the mouth, and on the lips.(2)

    These go away mostly without treatment. Applying benzocaine can be helpful in relieving discomfort.

    Sometimes canker sores can be a sign of an underlying health condition. Therefore, if there are other symptoms including fever, stomach pain, or rash, a person should seek medical advice.

  4. Geographic Tongue

    Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. 

    In this, there is inflammation of the sides and the top of the tongue and appears as a blotch or spot of redness surrounded by a white border.

    Geographic tongue may be related to diabetes, stress, or allergies.

  5. Oral Yeast Infection

    Oral yeast infection or oral thrush may affect their mouth and displays the following symptoms:

    • White spots, bumps, or patches on the inside of the mouth
    • Bad taste
    • Pain and soreness inside the mouth

    Oral thrush results due to the overgrowth of yeast in the mouth. It is mostly seen affecting:

    • Newborn babies
    • People with diabetes
    • People with HIV
    • Those receiving chemotherapy
    • People wearing dentures or retainers
    • Those using inhalers for asthma or COPD
    • People having dry mouth due to medication
  6. Scarlet Fever

    Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection of the nose and throat that leads to a red and bumpy tongue that is also known as strawberry tongue. It is most commonly known to affect children and is contagious. Other symptoms of scarlet fever include:

    Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics.

  7. Oral Allergy Syndrome

    Oral allergy syndrome is when a person is allergic to certain raw fruits and vegetables. Eating the food to which a person is allergic, leads to itching and swelling on the tongue. It is a mild condition and the allergy can be prevented by cutting out on foods a person is allergic to.

  8. Tongue Cancer

    Tongue cancer is a form of head and neck cancer and drinking alcohol, smoking, or HIV infection can increase the risk of a person suffering from it.

    Anyone with a painless sore lump on the tongue should see a dentist or a doctor.

Healthy Spots of the Tongue

There are healthy spots on the tongue as well. These include:

  • Fungiform Papillae: These are small spots that appear all over the tongue and are mostly seen on the tip and side of the tongue
  • Circumvallate Papillae: These spots are seen on the back of the tongue. These are raised and are seen arranged in a V pattern.
  • Foliate Papillae: These appear on the back of the tongue and at the edge.
  • Filiform Papillae: These are found in the center and at the front of the tongue

A doctor should be seen if unusual spots on the tongue are observed and if there are spots that bleed and are more painful.

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 11, 2023

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