Bumps on the tongue could be normal as the tongue has naturally occurring tiny elevations called papillae.
Other times, they may require further investigation and might be an indication of a condition.
In this article, we’ll be explaining the different causes, treatment options and when to see a doctor.
What Can Cause It?
1. Lingual Papillae
The tongue papillae are what give the tongue its rough texture. They also contain taste buds that help you enjoy food while eating, as well as receptors that sense temperature.
Papillae appear naturally all around the tongue, those at the back of the tongue are bigger than those in front. They make up a part of your tongue’s functional structure.
However, some conditions can change their appearance and cause them to become inflamed and irritated. An example of such conditions is a cold or sore throat. A throat infection can cause the papillae to become swollen and red.
2. Trauma or Injury
A cut or bite on your tongue could cause red bumps. Also, trauma to the tongue by brushing too hard or scalding the tongue with hot food or drinks could cause bumps to appear as well. These bumps are usually seen more in the front part of the tongue than at the back.
They are usually easy to treat and pretty much harmless. Simple home remedies such as using a warm saline mouth rinse or an antiseptic mouth rinse can help the bumps to heal. It is wise to keep an eye on the bumps and monitor healing.
These kinds of bumps would usually go away by itself after some days as long as you maintain good oral hygiene and avoid irritants coming in contact with them. Combining simple home remedies and good oral hygiene practices would produce favorable results.
If the bumps still persist longer than normal or do not respond to any treatment applies, then it would be necessary to speak to your doctor about it. Your doctor would make an assessment and prescribe appropriate medication if the bumps persist due to some underlying infection.
3. Nutritional Deficiencies
The general appearance of the tongue can be indicative of the general health status of a person. It could give insight into what is happening in the digestive system, as well as the oral health of a person.
Some nutritional deficiencies could change the appearance of the tongue. A deficiency in vitamin B-12 would make the papillae of the tongue appear smaller and red. A chronic iron deficiency would cause the tongue to appear red, smooth or bumpy, and have a burning sensation.
Some deficiencies could change the color of the tongue. For example, niacin deficiency would make the tongue appear black, while riboflavin deficiency would make the tongue have a magenta color.
Some allergies to food and medications can cause bumps on the tongue. Bumps due to an allergic reaction usually appear just minutes after exposure to the allergen.
The bumps are larger closer to the back of the tongue than in the front. The extent to which the allergic reactions manifest could range from mild to severe, and these reactions could also appear on the throat, face and all over the skin.
Warts are caused by a virus that can affect various parts of the body. Warts could appear anywhere in the mouth, and when they appear on the tongue, they cause red or white bumps on the back of the tongue which may be painless.
Warts on the tongue could appear in various forms. The bumps could be smooth, rough or wrinkly. They may occur as single bumps or as clusters on the tongue.
6. Canker Sores
These are mouth ulcers with no exact known cause. They appear to be aggravated when the body is undergoing stress or when immunity is low.
These ulcers have a red halo with a whitish or yellowish center. It is a painful condition and although canker sores can heal by themselves, a warm saline rinse can help the process of healing.
7. Oral Thrush
This is a fungal infection that can appear all over the mouth including the palate, tongue, cheeks, and gums. It is seen as a whitish or yellowish coating that could bleed when scraped.
Conditions such as dry mouth, smoking, use of dentures, poor oral hygiene and other conditions that suppress the immune system could cause oral thrush.
8. Scarlet Fever
This is a bacterial infection that begins as a red rash all over the body, usually starting from the abdomen. Scarlet fever causes bumps on the tongue which get larger as the fever increases. The tongue could become inflamed, red and it may also cause a sore throat.
This condition occurs when cells in the mouth start to grow in excess. It causes raised bumps which may be early signs of cancer. The lesions are white and appear on the tongue, cheeks, and gums.
They are usually not painful, and they get thick over time. Their appearance can be triggered by tobacco and they are also sensitive to heat and spicy food.
10. Oral Cancer
Bumps that persist on the tongue even after treatment should not be ignored. Cancerous bumps are usually painful, red or white and bleed easily.
The painful bumps may make it difficult to chew and swallow food. Other symptoms that could be observed with bumps caused by cancer include sore throat, bad breath, and ear pain.
When To See A Doctor
Even though most bumps may not necessarily be a cause for major concern, they should not be totally ignored either.
If you do notice a bump, watch it closely. The mouth tends to heal fast, but if the bump has been persistent for weeks, you should certainly check with your doctor.
Also, if the bump increases in size, changes color or you are just so unsure as to what could be going on, you should definitely see your doctor.
Some tongue bumps disappear spontaneously while others may respond to simple home remedies that can aid healing. Others may require a more thorough investigation and treatment.
- Mouth rinses: Using a mouth rinse in the form of a warm saline rinse or an antiseptic mouth rinse could help in the healing of bumps on the tongue. Warm saline may also provide mild pain relief and is very helpful with canker sores and general mouth pain. Antiseptic mouth rinses help to keep infection at bay while healing takes place.
- Maintaining good oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene is the foundation for a clean and healthy mouth. It is a crucial preventive measure against lots of oral conditions and may even curb pre-existing mouth infections.
- Drinking water: Apart from keeping you hydrated, drinking water also helps in reducing the likelihood of getting mouth infections by keeping things moving.
- Eating cool soft foods and drinks: Foods such as yogurt or cold water can be soothing when you have these uncomfortable bumps on your tongue. They can help to reduce the swelling and even alleviate the pain. Apart from the soothing effect of yogurt on tongue bumps, the probiotic bacteria contained in yogurt may help to displace bump-causing bacteria.
- Avoid triggers: It is necessary to avoid any foods which could trigger or further aggravate the bumps, such as hard, salty, spicy or acidic foods. Also, avoid substances that you are allergic to.
Some bumps will go away only after some specific treatment. This is why it’s important to report lingering tongue bumps to your doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. If a nutritional deficiency is observed, supplements may be prescribed. Antibiotics and antifungal agents may be prescribed for bacterial and fungal infections respectively.
Bumps at the back of your tongue may be nothing to worry many times, many disappear after a few days. However, you should see your doctor if it lingers for more than a few days to be sure it’s nothing serious.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is key to preventing these bumps.
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