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A sore or painful tongue is any kind of tongue discomfort, such as pain or a burning sensation. This symptom often has an obvious cause, such as a bite or burn. However, it can be a sign of a less obvious and more serious problem.
In many cases, a sore tongue is short-lived and easily treated.
Other causes of a sore tongue include:
If you have a sore tongue, try the following self-help tips at home:
If you have a sore tongue, a pharmacist may be able to give you advice on:
When to see a doctor or dentist about a sore tongue:
Many things can cause a sore tongue. The most common causes include:
If you bite your tongue or burn it with hot food or drink, you can develop a painful sore or swelling that usually lasts for a few days.
A tongue injury tends to heal on its own and usually needs no specific treatment.
While shallow tongue injuries tend to heal quickly, deeper tongue injuries can take up to three weeks to heal. If you have a deep tongue injury, see your doctor or go to hospital as you may need stitches to help the tongue heal properly.
Geographic tongue is a harmless condition in which irregular, smooth red patches and wavy white lines develop on the top and sides of the tongue. The condition is called geographic tongue because the patches often look like the outline of a map.
The patches may feel sore or burn, especially when you eat hot or spicy foods.
The exact cause of geographic tongue is unknown, but there is no specific treatment for it. However, you can minimise any discomfort by:
Mouth ulcers are small, often painful sores that usually appear on the inner surface of the cheeks, lips or underside of the tongue. They are common and tend to go away on their own within a week or two.
You can have more than one ulcer at a time and they can change in size.
Some people develop a type of recurrent mouth ulcer known as aphthous ulcers or canker sores. These ulcers are not infectious and are not caused by an underlying illness.
Mouth ulcers usually heal on their own in time. Self-care measures can be used to help them heal and reduce their risk of returning. These self-care measures can involve avoiding things that irritate your mouth and using non-prescription treatments.
If you have an ulcer that has lasted longer than three weeks, see your doctor.
Read more about mouth ulcers.
Oral thrush is a common infection that is caused by a fungus called Candida. Oral thrush causes white patches (plaques) to develop in the mouth. It can make your tongue and gums feel sore.
Other symptoms of oral thrush include:
Oral thrush is not contagious in adults, but babies with thrush can pass the infection to their mothers through breastfeeding.
Some people are more likely to get thrush than others. Read about the risk factors and causes of oral thrush.
Oral thrush will not go away without treatment and it can spread to other parts of the body.
Oral thrush can be treated with antifungal mouth treatments, such as a mouth gel that you can buy from a pharmacy without a prescription.
Lichen planus is a long-term rash that can affect different parts of your body, including the inside of your mouth.
When it affects the mouth, lichen planus can cause a white lacy pattern and painful patches on the tongue, gums, and insides of the cheeks.
The cause of lichen planus is unknown, but the condition is not contagious.
Lichen planus in the mouth can last for several years. But once it goes away, it usually does not come back.
You can use several self-care methods to reduce tongue pain from lichen planus, including:
Read more about lichen planus.
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.