What is Glossitis?
There are many disorders of the tongue which can result in inflammation of the tongue. One of the disorders is Glossitis. In Glossitis, the tongue becomes inflamed, develops swelling, turns into all kinds of shades of red and develops a smooth surface. The human tongue is a muscular organ of the mouth; though small in size, it helps in important functions, such as chewing and swallowing food. Tongue also helps with our speech. There are small bumps on the surface on the tongue which are known as papillae. In Glossitis, these papillae disappear and the tongue attains a smooth appearance. The papillae on the tongue are very important and help us in the way we eat. These papillae contain thousands of minute sensors, which we commonly know as taste buds. In Glossitis or other tongue diseases, severe inflammation of the tongue which causes redness, swelling and pain in the tongue, can change the way in which the patient eats or speaks.
Types of Glossitis
- Acute Glossitis: In this type, the tongue becomes inflamed all of a sudden, and the patient develops severe symptoms. Acute Glossitis usually occurs during an allergic reaction.
- Chronic Glossitis: Chronic glossitis is more common than acute Glossitis. This glossitis type presents as a symptom of some other health condition.
- Atrophic Glossitis: In this type of glossitis, a huge number of papillae are lost, which results in drastic changes of the texture and color of the tongue. The tongue often turns a shade of dark red.
- Hunter's Glossitis (Idiopathic Glossitis): The cause of this type of glossitis is not known. Hunter's Glossitis affects the tongue's muscles and it also results in loss of more than 50% of the papillae.
Causes of Glossitis
- Allergic Reactions to food, medications and other irritants (like toothpaste) can irritate the muscle tissues and the papillae of the tongue causing Glossitis. Antihypertensive medications can also irritate the tongue.
- Not having sufficient iron in the blood can also result in glossitis. Iron helps in controlling the growth of the cells and helps in making red blood cells, which in turn help in transportation of the oxygen to your tissues, organs and muscles. Low levels of iron in the blood results in low levels of a protein in red blood cells known as myoglobin, which is important for the health of muscles including the tongue's muscle tissue.
- Diseases which affect the immune system can also affect the muscles and the papillae of the tongue. In oral herpes simplex, the tongue has pain, blisters and swelling.
- Trauma to the mouth from injuries can also affect the health of the tongue, its muscles and tissues. The tongue can have inflammation from braces placed in the mouth and other such appliances. Burns and cuts on the tongue can also result in glossitis.
- Dryness of the mouth is caused by decrease in the production of the saliva. This can also cause glossitis.
Risk Factors of Glossitis
- Wearing dental appliances, such as braces or dentures, can irritate the tongue and increase the risk of glossitis.
- If you have had any injury/trauma to the mouth.
- If you are anemic or have low levels of iron.
- If you suffer from dryness of the mouth.
- If you have herpes, then there is an increased risk factor for glossitis.
- Allergic reaction to any type of food or medicine can increase the chances of having glossitis.
- Eating spicy foods can also cause glossitis.
- Autoimmune diseases or other immune system problems can also increase the risk of glossitis.
Signs & Symptoms of Glossitis
- There is tenderness and pain in the tongue with glossitis.
- The tongue swells up in size.
- The color and texture of the tongue changes and the tongue becomes smooth in appearance in glossitis.
- Patient finds it difficult to talk, eat and swallow.
- The papillae present on the surface of the tongue are destroyed.
- If the swelling of the tongue is extremely severe, so much so that the airway is blocked, then you should seek immediate medical care.
Investigations for Glossitis
The dentist or a physician examines the tongue and oral cavity to look for abnormal blisters and bumps on the gums, tongue and soft tissues of the mouth. Blood and saliva samples can be taken and sent to laboratory for further testing.
Treatment for Glossitis
- Medications, such as antibiotics, are prescribed if the glossitis occurs as a result of an infection.
- If there is fungal infection, then antifungal medication is prescribed.
- Pain killers are prescribed to alleviate the pain.
- Brushing the teeth twice and daily flossing of the teeth helps in improving the health of tongue, teeth and gums.
- Any type of food or medication, which is causing allergic reaction and glossitis, should be immediately stopped.
- A good oral and dental hygiene should be maintained to reduce and prevent future problems of the tongue and oral cavity.