Bumps On Back Of Tongue: What It Could Mean

Whenever you notice something that seems to be out of the ordinary on any part of the body, it is normal to feel concerned or worried about it. Bumps appearing on the tongue or at the back of the tongue could be normal or it could be a sign of a problem.

Let us explore the possible causes of bumps appearing on the tongue, starting with the most common reasons to more serious conditions.

Photo of tongue showing normal papillae

What Causes Bumps On The Back of The Tongue?

Bumps on the tongue could be normal as the tongue has naturally occurring tiny elevations called papillae. The tongue papillae are what gives the tongue its rough texture. They also contain taste buds that help you enjoy food while eating, as well as receptors that sense temperature.

Bumps at the back of the tongue are generally bigger than those in front and could take on a whitish color or reddish color. Some bumps that appear on the tongue might be transient and be of no particular cause for concern.

Other times, they may require further investigation and might be an indication of a condition.


1. Lingual Papillae

As mentioned earlier, papillae appear naturally all around the tongue, with those at the back of the tongue being bigger than those in front. They make up a part of your tongue structure and function and are usually not very obvious to the eyes.

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. Throat infection can cause the papillae to become swollen and red.

A bowl of hot tea

2. Trauma or Injury

A cut or bite on your tongue could cause red bumps to appear. 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. The 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 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 practice 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

Little girl eating a watermelon

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. Chronic iron deficiency would cause the tongue to appear smooth or bumpy, red 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.

4. Allergies

Gluten free allergy warning

Some allergies to food and medications can cause the appearance of 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.

5. Warts

sore on angle of mouth

Warts are caused by a virus which can affect various parts of the body. The oral cavity is no exception. Warts could appear anywhere in the mouth, and when they do 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 hallo with a whitish or yellowish center. It is a painful condition and although canker sores can heal by themselves, warm saline rinse can help the process of healing.

7. Oral Thrush/Stomatitis

white lesions on the tongue

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 which could bleed when scraped.

Conditions such as dry mouth, smoking, use of dentures, poor oral hygiene and other conditions which suppress the immune system could cause oral thrush.

8. Scarlet Fever

This is a bacterial infection which 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 may also cause a sore throat.

9. Leukoplakia

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

newspaper clipping of 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.

How Do I Get Rid of Bumps on My Tongue?

We know so far that a number of things can cause bumps on the tongue. Depending on the cause, some bumps disappear on their own after some days and respond to simple home remedies which can aid in the healing of these bumps.

Others may require a more thorough investigation and line of treatment. Let us look at a few of these home remedies:

two bottles of listerine mouthwash

  • 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.

woman and boy brushing teeth

  • Maintaining good oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene practice 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.

pouring water into a glass

  • Drinking water: You have probably heard the many great health benefits of drinking water. Aside from keeping you hydrated, drinking water also helps in reducing the likelihood of getting mouth infections by keeping things moving.

a bowl of yogurt and raspberries

  • 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. Aside from the soothing effect of yogurt on tongue bumps, the probiotic bacteria contained in yogurt may help to displace bump-causing bacteria.

assorted spices

  • 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 which you are allergic to.

Should I Be Worried?

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 and be sensitive to when to see a doctor. 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.

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Chioma Udechukwu, BDS

Dr. Chioma Udechukwu graduated with a bachelor's degree in dentistry (BDS) from the University of Lagos and spent years practicing dentistry. She relocated to Canada to pursue her dental career in a more enabling environment while continuing to work on her passion of educating everyday people about their oral health.
Chioma Udechukwu, BDS

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