The tongue isn’t a muscle we tend to think a lot about until a problem arises. Exposed to everything we put in our mouths, the tongue not only lets us taste and enjoy our food, it also helps us manipulate the food to chew and for digestion.
When something does go wrong with the tongue, it affects our ability to eat, smile, kiss, and even laugh. Bumps on the tongue can have many different causes, but when we have a bump, we want to know answers fast. Here are a few reasons we can have bumps on the tongue:
- Lie bumps
- Canker sores
- Strawberry tongue
- Oral cancer
- Geographic tongue
While you may not know these by their common name, many people have experienced a tender and inflamed bump on some portion of their tongue. This red or white bump usually lasts for a few days before dissipating, and these may feel as if you have pimples on your tongue. The old wives’ tale attributes these bumps to the sufferer telling a lie, and while that is categorically untrue, there is no definitive cause of lie bumps. Experts believe that local trauma can cause them as well as reactions to certain foods that may have been too acidic. Stress and gastrointestinal upset may also share some blame, and the Mexican tale blames the bumps on coveting something someone else has.
Lie bumps are believed to be the result of transient lingual papillitis (TLP). Though the bumps are not contagious, they can be quite painful. Gargling with hot, salty water can help reduce the pain and minimize the duration of the lie bump. To protect the bump and speed healing, over-the-counter medications to numb the bump may be applied. If your lie bump lasts for a prolonged period of time, your doctor may refer you to an oral pathologist for treatment.
A shallow white or yellow ulcer on your tongue, with a red border, is a canker sore. You may feel a canker sore “coming on” with a burning or tingling feeling at the beginning.
There are many different causes of canker sores, but they may be more likely to develop under the following conditions:
- If you are stressed or fatigued.
- If you have food allergies.
- If you eat highly acidic food.
- If you don’t get enough vitamins or minerals in your diet.
Canker sores can be swollen and painful and can make it difficult to talk and eat. The pain may last for more than a week, and then the canker sore may be completely healed within three weeks. Major canker sores (having a diameter greater than 10 mm) may take as long as six weeks to heal completely.
There are several treatments that include topical treatments that numb the area, mouthwashes, and anti-inflammatories. While these won’t make the canker sore completely disappear, they will help ease the discomfort and pain of the sore during its healing process so you can be more comfortable.
People who have had canker sores before are more vulnerable to developing them again, and they tend to run in families.
A tongue that is bright red with inflamed red papillae is known as a strawberry tongue, and can indicate several different conditions. It is a common symptom in strep throat, scarlet fever, Kawasaki disease, and toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Symptoms that also arrive with strep throat include sudden sore throat, pain or difficulty swallowing, high fever, and white or yellow spots or coating on the throat and tonsils. Scarlet fever develops from strep throat and a rash spreads over the entire body, starting from the head and neck. It can only be treated with antibiotics.
Kawasaki disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects children, and a high and persistent fever that is not responsive precedes other symptoms. In addition to strawberry tongue, the lips will be bright red and swollen with vertical fissures and bleeding. The prolonged fever can cause heart problems. Appropriate treatments include intravenous immunoglobulin and aspirin.
TSS is caused by a bacterial toxin and frequently requires hospitalization. In addition to strawberry tongue, symptoms include a body temperature above 102.02 degrees Fahrenheit, systolic blood pressure less than 90 mmHg, a rash (particularly of the palms and soles of the feet), and involvement of the three or more organ systems (gastrointestinal, mucous membrane, renal, hepatic, and thrombocytopenia). There will often be pain at the site of infection, and the rash may resemble sunburn. Without treatment, TSS can be fatal within hours, but with hospitalization and antibiotic treatment, patients can recover within weeks. Many people associate TSS with tampons because of an early ’80s outbreak due to certain brands, but these days this is much less likely to be the cause.
White or red patches, or mixed red and white patches, can be a sign of oral cancer. Other symptoms include a sore on your lip or mouth that won’t heal and loose teeth, bleeding in your mouth, or difficulty and pain when swallowing. The patches are generally the first symptom of such cancer and, as such, should be taken seriously. Your doctor can diagnose oral cancer with dental X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI; it is recommended to get a second opinion as well. Treatment can include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
This condition could also be defined as a lack of bumps on the tongue. With geographic tongue (also known as migratory glossitis), small patches of taste buds on the tongue are missing, creating smooth patches. These denuded areas can create the image of a map on the tongue.
These can heal and then move on to different parts of the tongue. Geographic tongue is a benign condition not associated with any illness or disease, although it can look disturbing. The condition may cause increased sensitivity to certain foods and substances. Gel or steroid mouthwashes can help decrease discomfort, but there is no treatment for the condition.