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Causes of a Sore Tongue

By Lisabetta DiVita ; Updated August 14, 2017

Accidentally biting your tongue can make it sore, however tongue pain can also be an indication of a serious medical condition, such as oral cancer. Seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis if you have tongue pain with an unknown cause, or you develop bumps or other lesions on your tongue or in your mouth.


Glossitis refers to a condition in which the tongue changes color and becomes swollen. Specific glossitis symptoms include a sore tongue, a smooth appearance of the tongue due to loss of the finger-like projections called papillae and trouble swallowing, chewing or speaking. Other symptoms include a beefy red or pale tongue.

Viral or bacterial infections such as oral herpes simplex can lead to glossitis. Other causes may include a yeast infection, trauma, burns, a dry mouth and exposure to tobacco, spices or hot foods. Medical problems such as iron deficiency anemia or apthous ulcers can also lead to glossitis.

Treatment for glossitis involves reducing inflammation. Brushing the teeth two times a day, flossing and changing the diet can reduce glossitis symptoms. Taking antibiotic and antifungal medications can also be used to manage glossitis.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer refers to a cancer that affects the mouth. Oral cancer symptoms include lesions, ulcers or lumps on the lip, tongue or mouth. These regions may be sore and they may form a deep crack within the tissue. Other oral cancer symptoms include difficulty swallowing, mouth sores, tongue problems and a strange taste in the mouth.

Tobacco and smoking causes the majority of oral cancers. Alcohol consumption, poor dental hygiene and the human papilloma virus can all lead to oral cancer. Treatment for oral cancer involves chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate the oral cancer cells or surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.

Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory skin condition that typically affects the arms or legs. Sometimes, this condition can also affect the genitals and mouth. Lichen planus symptoms can include mouth sores, a sore tongue, tenderness or itching of the mouth and shiny red patches on the cheeks or tongue. Other symptoms of lichen planus include skin bumps that can appear purple, pink or red in color and hair loss. Unfortunately, the cause of lichen planus is unclear. However, it may be linked to an allergic reaction to a medication or an infection such as hepatitis C. Treatment for lichen planus involves taking such medications as antihistamines, corticosteroids. Also, phototherapy (a type of light therapy) can also be beneficial.

Other Causes

Tongue pain can be caused by nerve damage. Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition caused by disruption of the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the face and mouth. Pain typically increases with speaking, chewing or touching the face. Nerve damage can also be caused by medical conditions such as diabetes. Heart attack -- a life-threatening situation -- may also cause pain in the jaw and tongue.

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