7 symptoms of tongue problems

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Many people experience tongue soreness and pain at some point in their lives. A sore tongue can be very uncomfortable and make it difficult to eat or drink, or even swallow. Tongue problems are very common and include a variety of symptoms, from pain or a burning sensation to changes in colour and texture.

The problem can be something that occurs on its own or can be a symptom of an underlying disease. In this article, we discuss seven of the most frequent tongue problems. What causes a sore tongue? And, very importantly, what can be done to prevent or treat tongue problems?

1. White tongue

There are a number of things that can cause a whitish coating to develop on the tongue. In many cases, it is caused by a weakened immune system. People who smoke excessively or don't practise proper dental hygiene can also get it. White patches on the tongue can also be a side effect of antibiotics.

Brushing your teeth and tongue twice a day the reduces the chance of bacteria accumulating and disrupting the natural balance of your mouth's ecosystem. In addition to a white tongue, oral imbalance can also cause bad breath.

2. Reddish-purple tongue

A reddish-purple tongue can be a sign of lung disease. Make sure to see a doctor about this. A reddish or purple colour on the surface of the tongue can also be caused by malignant anaemia or vitamin deficiency.

3. Red, swollen and/or painful tongue

A red, swollen and sore tongue is usually a sign of inflammation. The swelling can make it difficult to talk or swallow. Often inflammation is a result of the use of antibiotics for another condition.

Inflammation of the tongue typically resolves after several days. Brushing your teeth properly as well as brushing your tongue regularly can speed up this process. In addition, you can also rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash or saltwater solution.

4. Smooth tongue

A healthy tongue has a slightly wrinkly surface. If the tongue is smooth, without small ripples, it could be a sign of a lack of nutrients such as iron, decreased liver function, or gluten intolerance.

A smooth tongue doesn't need to be treated. As soon as the underlying cause is addressed, the smooth surface disappears and the tongue goes back to normal.

5. Hairy tongue

Hairy tongue is the common name given to a condition that causes your tongue to look ‘hairy’. Though the name and the appearance may make you think hair is growing on your tongue, the condition results when the filiform papillae (FP) on your tongue do not shed as they should. People who smoke or have a poor physical condition have an increased risk of developing the condition. Other causes include poor oral hygiene, use of antibiotics, and a dry mouth.

Practising good oral hygiene is the best way to treat hairy tongue. Brush your teeth (and tongue!) twice a day. If the symptoms of hairy tongue persist, make an appointment with your GP to see how you can improve your physical condition.

6. Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition that causes a map-like pattern to appear on the tongue. People with this condition have smooth, reddish patches surrounded by white borders on their tongue. Geographic tongue is benign (harmless) and does not cause any long-term health problems.

7. Tongue bumps or sores

Sores and bumps on the tongue can be caused by a viral infection in the mouth, mouth ulcers, tuberculosis, bacterial infections or early stage syphilis. Sores on the tongue can also be due to allergies. In rare cases, tongue problems can be an indication of a malignant tumour.

If you have an ulcer or swelling that does not disappear on its own within three weeks, consult your GP.

What should you do if you have tongue problems?

Check your tongue regularly. Many tongue problems don't require treatment and will clear up on their own. The following tips will help prevent and cure a sore tongue:

  1. Practise good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day, and brush or scrape your tongue too. In addition, use an antibacterial mouth rinse and see a dentist once a year.
  1. Support your immune system by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep.
  1. Don't smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation.
  1. Certain foods, such as very acidic foods, or toothpaste, can also irritate the tongue. If you suffer from a sore tongue, try a different brand of toothpaste and avoid acidic foods and drinks.

If the symptoms persist, see your GP to find out what is causing the problem and get it treated. If necessary, your GP will refer you to an ENT specialist for further examination.


10 Oorzaken Witte Tong op een rijtje | (n.d.). Tongaanslag. | Alles over gezondheid binnen handbereik. (2021, 1 March). Gezondheidsplein. (n.d.). Merckmanual.

Ziekten van de tong. (2020, 13 November). Maag Lever Darm Stichting.

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