Glossitis is often a symptom of other conditions, such as:
Allergic reactions to oralcare products, foods, or medicine
Dry mouth due to Sjogren syndrome [link to 01-000456]
Infection from bacteria, yeast or viruses (including oral herpes)
Injury (such as from burns, rough teeth, or bad-fitting dentures0
Skin conditions that affect the mouth
Irritants such as tobacco, alcohol, hot foods, spices, or other irritants
At times, glossitis may be passed down in families.
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
Rare symptoms or problems include
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 health care provider may ask questions about your health history and lifestyle to help discover the cause of tongue inflammation.
You may need blood tests may be done to rule out other medical problems.
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.
Glossitis goes away with if the cause of problem is removed or treated.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care 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.
Good oral care (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups) 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.
Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.