The human tongue is an amazing group of muscles that affect how we eat, speak and taste. It’s also a great indicator of our body's general health. In fact, experienced practitioners in alternative medicine can often diagnose an individual's physical condition just by looking at a patient's tongue!
While this incredible organ often performs perfectly, many individuals will experience tongue soreness and pain at some point in their lifetime.
The causes of a sore or inflamed tongue may stem from factors such as trauma, dental appliances and contact with irritants, vitamin deficiencies, and other medical conditions. Finding the underlying causes of tongue pain is the key to finding a solution to alleviate it.
See underlying reasons for tongue pain below, such as:
What Makes Your Tongue Hurt?
A healthy tongue usually appears pink and covered with papillae, which are protrusion projections on the tongue’s surface layer. A swollen, tender tongue with a burning sensation and a red, smooth appearance often indicates glossitis, or inflammation, of the tongue. Glossitis typically leads to a change in the appearance of the tongue surface. Papillae may be lost, causing the tongue to appear completely smooth.
Viral infections, canker sores, allergic reactions and even spicy food, toothpaste and mouthwash can all contribute to the presence of glossitis. Glossodynia refers to pain that occurs inside the tongue. Both conditions can be temporary or persistent.
An inflamed tongue can be associated with a disease, disorder or other condition such as anxiety, depression, hypothyroidism, hormonal changes, immune system alterations, drug reactions, vitamin deficiencies or, rarely, serious medical conditions.
An overly sensitive tongue might lead to difficulty eating, speaking or swallowing. In some cases, glossitis may result in severe tongue swelling, which can impede the throat and make it very difficult to breathe. While most causes of tongue pain are temporary and harmless, it’s still extremely difficult to differentiate the causes of a sore or inflamed tongue.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt After Dentures?
It’s not uncommon for patients to experience some tongue pain after being fitted for new dentures. Many times, natural teeth are extracted at the same time as denture fittings, causing tongue, gum and mouth pain. Since dentures are foreign objects to your mouth and tongue, it usually takes time to for them to adjust. Your tongue will slowly get used to the feeling of the new dentures and will learn how to hold them in place while talking and chewing food. Any discomfort or difficulty eating, speaking, and tasting should subside within a few days to weeks after the initial fitting.
Solutions to common denture problems include:
- Rinsing your mouth with salt water several times a day, for the first few days after receiving new dentures
- Eating soft foods for a few days after denture fitting, and cutting food into small pieces
- Having adjustments made to your dentures by your dental professional
- Using denture adhesives to hold dentures in place (after any extraction sites have healed)
Patients typically visit their dental professional a few times after their initial denture fitting, so they can discuss any extended tongue pain, swallowing or taste issues. Patients can also consider dental implants as an option instead of traditional dentures. If you are experiencing denture pain, contact Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey to set-up a consultation with a Prosthodontist.
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Why Does My Tongue Hurt With Braces?
Braces are another dental appliance that can cause tongue pain and discomfort. Whether made of metal or another material, brackets, wires, and other components can cut and irritate the mouth and tongue. Within a few weeks, the area toughens and adjusts to the presence of braces, but there are a few things that you can do to alleviate any pain in the meantime.
Solutions to pain caused by braces include:
- Using dental wax provided by your orthodontist or other dental professional
- Rinsing mouth with salt water
- Taking over the counter pain relievers (Advil, Tylenol, etc.)
- Using teething or numbing gel in the sore area
- Gently biting or chewing on foods or sugar-free gum
- Eating soft foods and avoiding sticky, hard or chewy foods
- Brushing tongue with a toothbrush or soft dental brush
To avoid further cuts and sores, patients with braces should always consult their orthodontist or other dental professional if any part of their braces becomes damaged, loose or broken.
Why Is My Tongue Sore on the Sides?
There are a number of conditions that can help explain why someone’s tongue can hurt on the sides and also why tongues can hurt in the back.
Geographic tongue is a painful condition that causes sensitive red or irregular patches to form on the tongue. While it isn’t exactly known what causes this, patients with geographic tongue can alleviate their discomfort with pain relievers and also by avoiding acidic or spicy foods and drinks. Geographic tongue can be a temporary or permanent condition.
Oral thrush is another condition that can cause a sore tongue. It’s caused by fungus and requires the use of antifungal medications to improve. Oral thrush can be caused by a variety of conditions including denture use, poor oral hygiene or even a medical condition such as diabetes.
Mouth ulcers are painful sores that form on the tongue. They can form from trauma to the mouth, such as burning or biting the tongue, or can be a recurring condition due to factors such as stress and hormonal changes. Mouth ulcers usually heal on their own within a week or so, and the associated pain can be alleviated with pain relievers and avoiding irritating foods.
Malocclusion is any misalignment of the jaw or teeth. This can include the presence of underbites, overbites and tooth crowding. It can cause pain and discomfort while chewing and biting, and can also cause repeated biting of the cheeks and tongue. Classes of malocclusions range from mild to severe. Serious cases of malocclusion usually involve orthodontic or surgical treatment to remedy the problem.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt After Dental Work?
During and after dental procedures, the tongue can become sore for a variety of reasons. Chipped or rough tooth surfaces can irritate the tongue, causing it to become inflamed. Occasionally, the tongue can be nicked or bruised by dental instruments or chemicals.
The most common cause of tongue pain after dental work is trauma caused by biting the tongue while it’s numb. This can cause soreness, blisters and sometime ulcers. While this type of tongue pain will often subside quickly on its own, there are a few things that you can do to help alleviate the discomfort.
Solutions to tongue pain after dental work include:
- Using a topical numbing medicine
- Using mild pain relievers
- Rinsing mouth with salt water
- Avoiding hard, spicy and acidic foods and drinks until soreness subsides
Your dental professional should be consulted if the soreness does not subside within one to two weeks.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt After Tonsillectomy?
As with most surgeries involving the mouth, a tonsillectomy requires the manipulation of the tongue. In order to access the tonsils, surgeons will often use a clamp to keep the mouth open and the tongue out of the way. This creates a trauma to the tongue, resulting in temporary swelling, soreness and sometimes loss of taste.
This type of soreness usually goes away on its own within a few weeks after surgery. Eating soft foods that aren’t too hot or spicy, using pain relievers and even applying ice packs under the chin may help to alleviate some of the discomfort that follows a tonsillectomy.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt When I’m Sick?
A weak or compromised immune system can also cause tongue pain. Mouth ulcers often precede colds and other viruses, and swollen glands can cause the tongue to feel sore and swollen.
Immune disorders and antibiotic use can also produce oral thrush, which is a white coating on the tongue caused by fungus.
Vitamin deficiencies such as iron deficiency anemia, pernicious anemia and other B-vitamin deficiencies are some of the most common reasons for a painful tongue. Taking both vitamin C and vitamin B complex every day can help alleviate vitamin deficiencies associated with a painful tongue.
Fevers, dehydration and side effects of certain medications can cause the tongue to feel dry and sore. Drinking lots of water, maintaining a healthy diet and getting sufficient rest are also important safeguards to help the immune system stay in tip-top shape. Pain relievers can alleviate any discomfort caused by tongue pain and sickness.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt When Eating a Pineapple?
Many people find that their tongue hurts after eating raw pineapple or other acidic fruits and vegetables. There is actually a scientific explanation for this. Pineapple contains a group of enzymes, called bromelain, that break down proteins, including the ones present in your mouth and tongue. The good news is that they quickly grow back and the soreness soon subsides.
Other fruits and veggies that are high in these enzymes include lemons, kiwis, avocados and grapes. Cooking the fruit eliminates these enzymes and may prevent the tongue soreness that results from eating it raw.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt When I Swallow?
Tongue pain while swallowing can be caused by infections, viruses and many other conditions, including:
- Heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Infections such as tonsillitis, sinusitis and pharyngitis
- Oral herpes or canker sores
- Dental issues such as abscess, cavities or toothache
- Salivary gland or thyroid issues
- Cold, mumps or other viruses
- Allergic reactions
Since there are so many conditions associated with tongue pain while swallowing, it’s important to note any coexisting symptoms to determine the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt When I Exercise?
Some people may notice that their tongue often hurts when they run or exercise. One reason for this is the muscle strain caused by clenching the jaw during running or other vigorous exercise. Trying to relax the jaw muscles while exercising is a solution to this.
Exercise causes an increase in circulation. When blood flows quickly through the arteries in the tongue, it can feel like it’s swollen and throbbing. Although uncomfortable, this is a normal and harmless occurrence. Slowing down and breathing to lower the heart rate can help alleviate this.
Another possible reason for tongue pain during exercise is dehydration. Staying adequately hydrated while exercising can help avoid dehydration and tongue pain.
If all of the aforementioned factors are ruled out and tongue pain persists during exercise, it’s a good idea to consult a physician to be screened for anemia, an iron deficiency of the blood.
Why Does My Tongue Hurt After Smoking?
Smoking can have serious negative affects on the whole body, including the tongue. It can irritate and damage your tongue’s papillae, which may alter sensitivity and sense of taste. In fact, a recent study found that 80% of smokers had a lower ability to detect taste than in nonsmokers.
Leukoplakia are white patches that commonly occur in the mouths and tongues of smokers. They can’t be rubbed off. Erythroplakia are flat red patches that will often bleed when scraped. Both conditions can cause minor tongue discomfort. Although they don’t often cause major symptoms, leukoplakia and erythroplakia can be precancerous and should be carefully monitored.
The two main causes of squamous cell cancer, the most common tongue cancer, are smoking and drinking alcohol. Exposure to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is also being linked to certain head and neck cancers.
Smoking can also change the texture and appearance of the tongue. Irritation caused by smoking can change the tongue’s ability to break down keratin. The result is a condition called coated tongue, which is basically a thick coating of dead cells down the middle of the tongue.
When the overgrowth of keratin gets more severe, the tongue appears to be hairy, in a condition called hairy tongue. The hair-like appearance is caused by an accumulation of tobacco, food and bacteria. While both conditions are relatively harmless, they look unsightly and can cause bad breath.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to remember that alleviating and reversing the inflammation is the primary treatment goal when dealing with an inflamed or burning tongue. If the inflammation is treated, other side effects (like burning sensations, redness, etc.) will almost always dissipate.
Cutting back on drinking and smoking, watching your diet for possible allergic reactions and better managing your daily stress will also aid in healing your tongue back to a healthy and normally functioning condition. If the symptoms of a painful tongue persist after two to three weeks of home self-management, visit your healthcare professional to rule out any other possible medical conditions.
Contact Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey Today
At Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey (SDNJ), we build great smiles everyday. We are 100% focused on our patients and treat them as we would members of our own family. Our team is skilled, knowledgeable and caring.
Whether you’re having tongue pain or have any questions or concerns about your oral health, contact us today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team. At SDNJ, we love what we do and are proud to offer a variety of services, including dental implants, Invisalign and full cosmetic rehabilitation. We are here to give you back your confidence and keep your smile healthy for years to come.