19 September 2019
The tongue is composed of a series of muscles and enables your body to carry out vital processes, like breathing and swallowing. It’s covered in small bumps, known as papillae. They contain your taste buds and give your tongue its rough texture.
Any problems that we develop on our tongues can be hard to ignore. Some common tongue problems include:
Sometimes, the papillae on your tongue can become enlarged and swollen. Swelling of the papillae makes it easier for bacteria, dead cells and debris to get lodged between them, forming a white coating on the tongue’s surface.
Causes of swollen papillae include:
Tongue discolouration or white patches on the tongue can be caused by a health condition. Conditions that can cause a white tongue include:
To treat a white tongue at home, try to:
See your doctor or dentist if you:
A black tongue is not a cause for concern most of the time. It is usually caused by a build-up of dead skin cells. These accumulate on the tips of the tongue’s papillae, creating the appearance of a hairy texture.
The papillae can at the same time become stained a blackish colour by bacteria or certain substances.
There are some possible factors that may affect how well a tongue is able to shed dead skin cells, including:
Some things which may result in the black discolouration of the tongue are:
You should be able to treat a black, hairy tongue at home by making a few simple changes to your dental hygiene practices, such as:
Visit your doctor if your black tongue persists for more than one or two weeks.
Always speak to your doctor before discontinuing a medication, even if you think it may be the cause of a black tongue.
A sore tongue is most commonly caused by injury or trauma. For example, you may have burned or bitten your tongue.
Though you may experience discomfort ranging from mild irritation to pain, a sore tongue is rarely a cause for concern, recovers fairly quickly, and can be managed at home.
In some cases, a sore tongue may be a sign of an underlying health condition, particularly if white patches are also appearing on its surface. In this circumstance, you should see a doctor so they can help you treat any underlying illnesses.
To help treat a sore tongue at home, you can:
Visit your doctor if you are ever worried about tongue pain, or if:
Tongue bumps are usually not a cause for concern and are usually the result of an injury like a bite or a burn. Other potential causes of tongue injury include:
If you have a gap between your teeth, a bump may form where your tongue fills the space.
Small bumps that appear on both sides of the tongue are usually nothing to worry about. However, if a bump appears on only one side of your tongue, you should make an appointment with a doctor to have it examined.
Some causes of tongue bumps, such as irritation or injury will clear up on their own. Bumps caused by an underlying condition, however, will likely need treatment from a doctor. Bacterial infections, for example, will need to be treated with antibiotics.
See your doctor if you are ever worried about a tongue bump or if you have developed a tongue bump and have not damaged your mouth recently.
While your tongue is healing, there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms (regardless of the cause). You can try to:
Seek emergency medical attention if you experience the symptoms of anaphylaxis alongside tongue bumps, like a very swollen tongue or breathing difficulties.
Also see a doctor immediately if you are feverish or in severe pain.
Make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after a week, if they get worse, or if your bumps keep recurring.
You should also make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you experience patches in your mouth that are red or white in colour, or sores or lumps, especially if they feel hard.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.
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