January 19, 2007

Painful Papillae of the Tongue


The small bumps or nodules of tissue on your tongue are called papillae. Your taste buds are scattered among these nodules. Sometimes, these papillae can become painful. Several papillae can hurt, or just one or two at a time.

Trauma is the most common cause of painful papillae of the tongue. The pain can occur because you have bitten your tongue or eaten something hot, such as pizza. Acidic foods such as orange juice and tomato sauce often can cause pain on traumatized areas of the tongue.

Some people unconsciously push the tips of their tongues against their upper teeth, which can cause tongue inflammation. People who grind or clench their teeth also irritate the edges of their tongues.

Benign migratory glossitis (also called geographic tongue is a condition of the tongue that can cause pain and can make your tongue more sensitive to spicy or acidic foods.

A painful tongue also can be a symptom of an underlying systemic (body-wide) condition, such as severe anemia, uncontrolled diabetes or a vitamin deficiency. Many skin diseases can affect the mouth. Yeast overgrowth and severe dry mouth (xerostomia) can lead to inflamed and painful papillae of the tongue.

Your tongue can be generally uncomfortable, or you can have pain in one area of the tongue. Some people also may have swelling or redness. Other symptoms can range from burning to soreness.

For the pain to be treated, the underlying cause must be found. Your dentist or doctor will examine your mouth, review your medical history, and ask about trauma or other factors that might explain the pain.

Tongue pain can be caused by chronic skin diseases. If this is the case, you should visit a specialist in oral medicine, who can help with diagnosis and management of your condition.

Expected Duration
If the pain is caused by a specific disease, the pain will likely improve once the condition is treated medically. Pain caused by trauma will disappear when the area heals (usually within two weeks).

Because the most common cause of a painful tongue is trauma, you should avoid food and drink that is extremely hot, salty or acidic. If you grind your teeth and/or have a habit of rubbing your tongue across the teeth, wearing a night guard (also called a mouth guard) can protect your tongue, as well as your teeth.

Treatment depends on the cause. Some common treatments include smoothing of sharp teeth and/or dentures, avoiding tongue-biting habits, and using pain-relieving mouth rinses. Other medical treatments can be recommended once a specific diasgnosis is made by the dentist or specialist.

When To Call a Professional
If the pain lasts for more than one to two weeks or becomes more severe over time, call your dentist.

Adapted from: Columbia University Medical Center, School of Dental & Oral Surgery