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Glossitis

Tongue inflammation; Tongue infection; Smooth tongue; Glossodynia; Burning tongue syndrome

Glossitis is a problem in which the tongue is swollen and inflamed. This often makes the surface of the tongue appear smooth. Geographic tongue is a type of glossitis.

Causes

Glossitis is often a symptom of other conditions, such as:

  • Allergic reactions to oral care products, foods, or medicine
  • Dry mouth due to Sjögren syndrome
  • Infection from bacteria, yeast or viruses (including oral herpes)
  • Injury (such as from burns, rough teeth, or bad-fitting dentures)
  • Skin conditions that affect the mouth
  • Irritants such as tobacco, alcohol, hot foods, spices, or other irritants
  • Hormonal factors
  • Certain vitamin deficiencies

At times, glossitis may be passed down in families.

Symptoms

Symptoms of glossitis may come on quickly or develop over time. They include:

  • Problems chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Smooth surface of the tongue
  • Sore, tender, or swollen tongue
  • Pale or bright red color to the tongue
  • Tongue swelling

Rare symptoms or problems include:

  • Blocked airway
  • Problems speaking, chewing, or swallowing

Exams and Tests

Your dentist or health care provider will do an exam to look for:

  • Finger-like bumps on the surface of the tongue (called papillae) that may be missing
  • Swollen tongue (or patches of swelling)

The provider may ask questions about your health history and lifestyle to help discover the cause of tongue inflammation.

You may need blood tests to rule out other medical problems.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and soreness. Most people do not need to go to the hospital unless the tongue is very swollen. Treatment may include:

  • Good oral care. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
  • Antibiotics or other medicines to treat infection.
  • Diet changes and supplements to treat nutrition problems.
  • Avoiding irritants (such as hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and tobacco) to ease discomfort.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Glossitis goes away if the cause of problem is removed or treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • Symptoms of glossitis last longer than 10 days.
  • Tongue swelling is very bad.
  • Breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing causes problems.

Get emergency care right away if tongue swelling blocks the airway.

For more information on testing, diagnostic, surgical and treatment services available at Huron Regional Medical Center, click here. The medical staff at HRMC includes full-time primary and specialty physicians to care for your whole family, as well as visiting specialists who see patients in HRMC'S Specialty Clinic, HRMC Physicians Clinic and other local clinics. Learn more by visiting our online Find-a-Doc directory.

Prevention

Good oral care (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups) may help prevent glossitis.

References

Daniels TE, Jordan RC. Diseases of the mouth and salivary glands. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 425.

Mirowski GW, Leblanc J, Mark LA. Oral disease and oral-cutaneous manifestations of gastrointestinal and liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 24.

  • Tongue

    Tongue - illustration

    The tongue is mainly composed of muscles. It is covered with a mucous membrane. Small nodules of tissue, called papillae, cover the upper surface of the tongue. Between the papillae are the taste buds, which provide the sense of taste. In addition to taste, the tongue functions in moving food to aid chewing and swallowing, and it is important in speech.

    Tongue

    illustration

    • Tongue

      Tongue - illustration

      The tongue is mainly composed of muscles. It is covered with a mucous membrane. Small nodules of tissue, called papillae, cover the upper surface of the tongue. Between the papillae are the taste buds, which provide the sense of taste. In addition to taste, the tongue functions in moving food to aid chewing and swallowing, and it is important in speech.

      Tongue

      illustration


     

    Review Date: 2/27/2019

    Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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