tongue disease

Signs of Tongue Disease

Common Problems

We all dive into a piping hot pizza and burn our mouth once in a while, but what happens when we have tongue discomfort that doesn’t go away after a few days? This article explores common symptoms and when to contact your dentist for help.

Common Symptoms of Tongue Problems

Pain – constant or when eating

Burning feeling

Lumps that were not there before


Color changes (white, red, yellow or black)

Changes in texture

There are quite a few common tongue disorders ranging from canker sores to cancer.


Thrush is seen in infants and adults or in combination with other diseases that can impact the immune system such as diabetes or cancer or on certain antibiotics. Candida yeast is typically found in the mouth, but it can get out of control and shows up as white or red patches on the tongue and causes sensitivity when eating or swallowing. It may impact the sense of taste as well.

Thrush Treatment

Your dentist can prescribe anti-fungal medication that is applied to the tongue and other affected areas. Occasionally, an oral medication or IV medication is needed to clear the yeast from the body.

Oral Lichen Planus

This disease is a dermatological issue and is commonly believed to be an autoimmune disease. Symptoms show up as lacy white or red areas that are painful or produce a burning sensation.

Oral Lichen Planus Treatment

Steroids and light therapy are commonly used for treatment, but it has proven to be challenging to treat and episodes may last over a year. Oftentimes, no treatment is necessary. If you suspect that you may have oral lichen planus, contact your healthcare provider to begin a treatment plan.

Canker Sores on the Tongue

Most people will have a run-in with canker sores at some point during their lifetime. Little round sores appear on the soft tissue of the mouth, including the tongue, and look yellowish or white. In rare cases, canker sores can appear as a small cluster of sores. While it’s not fully understood what causes canker sores, it can be related to lifestyle changes such as toothpaste or eating acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus, and vinegar.

Canker Sore Treatment

The good news is that most canker sores will go away on their own in about two weeks. However, they can be very sensitive and over-the-counter medications can help to manage the pain until healed.

Transient Lingual Papillitis

This condition is the temporary inflammation of the lingual papillitis, in the area in the front of the tongue. Typically, stress, infections and other underlying health conditions, and lifestyle choices (smoking or highly acidic foods) are among the causes.

There are several types of transient lingual papillitis:

  • Localized transient lingual papillitis which affects the tip of the tongue only.
  • Eruptive lingual papillitis is seen in the tongue but also causes swelling in the lymph nodes.
  • Papulokeratotic transient lingual papillitis shows as yellow or white painless bumps.

Transient Lingual Papillitis Treatment

Bumps typically resolve on their own in a few days, but salt water rinses can help with pain and help with healing.

Oral Cancer of the Tongue

Tongue cancer can appear on any part of the tongue, including all the way down your throat. People with tongue cancer may experience a red, pink or grey bump that bleeds easily. Other symptoms show up as difficulty swallowing, a lump in the throat or ear pain. Chewing tobacco, alcohol, and smoking all increase the risk.

Oral Cancer Treatment

Early identification and treatment are important to remove the cancer cells and interrupt any spreading. Surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used to remove and rid the body of any stray cells.

As you can see, there are many common tongue diseases, both temporary and those that require additional support from your dentist and healthcare team. If you have a tongue condition requiring medical help, contact Dr. Carangelo to make an appointment as soon as possible.