A healthy tongue is characterised by pink colour with presence of nodules called papillae. Since, tongue is constantly in motion and use, problems associated with it can arise over time causing discomfort and irritation. There are various types of tongue problems that commonly affect people. Let us understand the causes, diagnosis and treatment of tongue problems in detail.

But the good news is that majority of tongue problems right from thrush to soreness can be treated with medications and are not life threatening! However, in rare scenarios certain type of tongue problems can indicate serious conditions related to vitamin deficiencies, AIDS, or cancer. Hence, it is important to seek medical advice to avoid complications in future.

Types of Tongue Problems

Types of Tongue Problems

Here are some of the commonest types of tongue problems that you may commonly encounter. These are also the common symptoms of tongue problems or may be commonly seen in other medical conditions as well.

  • Soreness
  • Development of red or white patches on tongue
  • Burning sensation on tongue
  • Appearance of a fissured or hairy tongue
  • Blisters
  • Pain
  • Tongue colour change
  • Changes in taste and texture

Since these tongue problems are not serious, they can be resolved easily with proper steps. However, recurring tongue problems might indicate an underlying condition that requires more intensive treatment.

Causes of Tongue Problems

While some of the common tongue problems may be seen in fever, gastric disturbances or infections, there may be other reasons too. There are some medical conditions that require medical examinations for appropriate treatment. Here are some causes of tongue problems that usually need attention.

Paraesthesia

An acute tongue nerve deformity which leads to altered sensation is called as paraesthesia. This problem is a result of damage to the lingual nerve that is responsible for giving the sensation through tongue.

Nerve damage can result in altered sensation during cases that involve wisdom tooth removal. The symptoms are usually observed after the procedure is done. Feeling of needles or loss of sensation, numbness can be experienced in paraesthesia. Thus, nerve damage due to injury or infection is a common cause of tongue problems of this kind.

Treatment for this type of tongue problems involves waiting for the damaged nerve to repair on its own. However, if the symptoms continue to exist, a surgery may be required to repair the injured lingual nerve.

Dysgeusia

This is another type of tongue problem that leads to disturbed sense of taste; which could result from a number of factors such as cancer, common cold, medicinal side effects, dryness in mouth or as a result of some gum disease.

Chemotherapy that involves intensive and harsh radiations as a treatment for cancer is often a cause of tongue problems with taste distortion. Moreover, taste buds can also suffer damage as a result of less saliva leading to dryness in mouth.

Damage suffered due to radiation can be healed depending upon its intensity. Alternatively, treatments like zinc supplementation and artificial saliva may be prescribed, as appropriate.

Swelling in the Tongue

Another common type of tongue problem is swelling in the tongue. If you are facing swelling in the tongue, it could be a symptom associated with some disease or condition such as leukaemia, oral cancer, anaemia, strep throat, thyroid etc.

Allergic reaction could be another reason behind sudden swelling of the tongue. It could lead to problems such as difficult breathing, pain on eating or swallowing and soreness. Treatment for such types of tongue problems must be initiated urgently to avoid further complications.

Tongue Problems in Children

There are some problems associated with tongue that tend to happen at an early age and therefore commonly affect infants, toddlers and children. These problems are generally indicated via development of white patches as a result of antibiotics taken by breastfeeding mothers. White patches are a result of yeast growth that happens when the good bacteria gets killed in the process.

Generally, antifungal medications are given to the child and breastfeeding is stopped during the course to avoid transferring the infection from child to mother. Other tongue problems in children include fissures, ulcers or traumatic injuries. Strawberry tongue is also a problem seen in children just like the Kawasaki disease.

Diagnosis of Tongue Problems

If the symptoms of any of the type of tongue problems persist or appear to worsen, immediate medical attention should be sought. With the necessary investigations, the doctor would be able to detect the underlying cause of the tongue problem.

Visit a doctor at the earliest in case you observe:

  • Sores becoming larger in size
  • Frequent pain that is recurring
  • Pain around the tongue that does not resolve on talking oral medications
  • Any persistent symptom that is causing discomfort for more than two weeks
  • Tongue discomfort accompanies with fever
  • Facing difficulty in eating or swallowing
  • Moving the tongue or speaking causes pain

Diagnosis of tongue problems is based on history and clinical findings, and with investigations. Advanced investigations may be carried out, if certain conditions are suspected.

In case of severe conditions such as cancer, use of a blue coloured dye called toluidine is done for performing diagnosis. Staining done with toluidine is used to detect the presence of cancerous lesions. Once the condition is successfully diagnosed, the doctor would prescribe medications accordingly.

Treatment of Tongue Problems

For common tongue problems, oral pain killers may be given. In case of a burning sensation, relief can be felt by sucking an ice into mouth or by doing gargles with cold water. Such home remedies, though can only be effective for temporary relief. For symptoms that are recurring and severe, evaluation by a physician followed by diagnosis and treatment should be considered.

Apart from the treatment of tongue problems, there is a lot you can do to maintain a healthy tongue. A good sense of oral hygiene is important to prevent occurrence of tongue problems. Proper brushing, eating nutritious food, frequent gargles are some steps towards maintaining oral hygiene. Quitting smoking, tobacco and alcohol could be a right way to prevent the risk of development of oral cancers.

Many types of tongue problems can be detected with the early signs during routine dental visits. Hence, make sure you plan your dental visit or health check-up. Lastly, remember that your health is a priority and making efforts towards safeguarding is important for longevity and optimum wellbeing.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: August 22, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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