Tongue Problems

  • Medical Author:
    Donna S. Bautista, DDS

    Dr. Donna S. Bautista, DDS, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor of arts in biochemistry and cell biology. During her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in basic research including studying processes related to DNA transcription in the field of molecular biology. Upon graduation, she went on to attend dental school at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to her formal dental training, she provided dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area through clinics and health fairs. She also worked toward mentoring high school students interested in the field of dentistry.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Quick GuideDental Health: Top Problems in Your Mouth

Dental Health: Top Problems in Your Mouth

Tongue pain

Pain with the tongue can be associated with anemia, canker sores (aphthous ulcers), oral herpes, neuralgia, cancer, poorly fitting dentures, or irritation from dental work.

Canker sores are commonly found on the tongue and can be very painful. They appear as a yellow-white center with a red halo. These ulcerations are thought to be caused by local injury, stress, or genetic predisposition; however, no definitive cause has been found. No treatment is usually necessary as these ulcerations generally resolve in less than two weeks.

Oral herpes is caused by the herpes virus and appears as fluid-filled lesions. These lesions usually resolve in two weeks' time, but oral herpes can also be treated with antiviral medications to shorten the duration of symptoms.

"Burning mouth syndrome" is a phenomenon that often includes the tongue (often called "burning tongue"). It has been associated with other conditions that include menopause, anxiety, depression, acid reflux, nutritional deficiencies, and mouth conditions such as dry mouth or oral thrush. Treatment is usually for the underlying condition (for example antifungals for oral thrush, supplement for nutrition deficiencies, or medications to treat anxiety or depression).

Altered sensation of the tongue

Paresthesia is an abnormal or altered sensation. Paresthesia of the tongue can occur with damage to the lingual nerve, the nerve of sensation for the tongue. The most common cause of lingual nerve damage occurs during wisdom teeth extractions where the nerve is very close to the tooth being extracted. The nerve damage is usually noticed well after the procedure and symptoms include altered, decreased, or complete loss of sensation. Pain, taste, touch, perception of temperature and perception of relative position and movement (proprioception) may be involved. The sensation of "pin and needles" similar to being numb during a dental procedure may persist. Usually, treatment involves waiting for the nerve to self-repair itself in a period of six months to a year. If there is no improvement, surgery may be an option to repair the injured nerve.

Taste problems

Dysgeusia is the term used to describe the distortion of the sense of taste. Common causes of dysgeusia include medications, cancer therapy, dry mouth, gum disease, and the common cold or flu. Cancer therapy that involves chemotherapy and radiation to the head and neck area can greatly affect taste. Radiation therapy can damage taste buds and salivary glands. Decreased flow of saliva causes a dry mouth and further compounds the problem. Cigarette smoking also can affect taste. If dysgeusia is due to a temporary condition, it should resolve once the cause is removed. Damage to taste buds through radiation therapy may require time for healing to occur. Taste may slowly return and greatly depends on the amount of damage from radiation therapy. Artificial saliva and zinc supplementation may help in restoring taste for some individuals.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2015

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