Tobacco, alcohol, hot foods, spices, or other irritants
Yeast infection in the mouth
At times, glossitis may be passed down in families and is not due to another disease or event.
Symptoms of glossitis may appear quickly or slowly over time. They include:
Difficulty with chewing, swallowing, or speaking
Smooth surface of the tongue
Sore and tender tongue
Tongue color changes
Pale, if caused by pernicious anemia
Fiery red, if caused by a lack of other B vitamins
Exams and Tests
An examination by a dentist or health care provider shows:
Finger-like bumps on the surface of the tongue (called papillae) may be missing
Swollen tongue (or patches of swelling)
Your health care provider may ask detailed questions about your medical history and lifestyle to find the cause of tongue inflammation if there was no obvious injury or other cause.
Blood tests may be done to rule out other medical conditions.
The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation. Most people do not need to go to the hospital for treatment unless tongue swelling is severe.
Good oral hygiene is important. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
Antibiotics, antifungal medications, or other antimicrobials may be prescribed if the glossitis is due to an infection.
Dietary changes and supplements are used to treat anemia and nutritional deficiencies.
Avoid irritants (such as hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and tobacco) to reduce any tongue discomfort.
Glossitis usually responds well to treatment if the cause of inflammation is removed or treated. This disorder may be painless, or it may cause tongue and mouth discomfort. In some cases, glossitis may result in severe tongue swelling that blocks the airway.
Difficulties with speaking, chewing, or swallowing
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
Symptoms of glossitis last longer than 10 days
Tongue swelling is severe
Breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing is difficult
Blockage of the airway is an emergency situation that needs immediate medical attention.
Good oral hygiene (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular professional cleaning and examination) may help prevent glossitis.
Reamy BV, Derby R, Bunt CW. Common tongue conditions in primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2010;81(5):627-634.
Mirowski GW, Mark LA. Oral disease and oral-cutaneous manifestations of gastrointestinal and liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 22.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.