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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What are tongue problems in pregnancy?

A small percentage of women experience a sore tongue while pregnant. This may be related to the hormonal changes taking place during pregnancy. The soreness could also be in combination with geographic tongue where bare areas are present and disappear as well as reappear. These conditions usually resolve after the pregnancy ends.

How do health-care professionals diagnose tongue problems?

During an examination with a physician or dentist, information based on symptoms and clinical appearance is collected. Based on this information, a diagnosis is made. However, if there isn't a unique sign or symptom to distinguish the tongue problem, a differential diagnosis is reviewed. A differential diagnosis lists all the possible causes of the signs and symptoms. It is a systematic process of weighing the probability of one disease versus that of other diseases that may account for the tongue problem. For example, a white tongue lesion may have the differential diagnosis of lichen planus, leukoplakia, or contact inflammation from dentures. Each of these causes can be carefully considered based on what is observed. Subsequently, a plan of treatment can be made.

For many tongue conditions that might be cancer, a special dye called toluidine blue has been useful to aid in diagnosis. Toluidine blue staining is able to help in early identification of precancerous or cancerous lesions.

A more definite diagnosis requires a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure whereby a sample of cells or tissue is evaluated under a microscope. Optimal treatment requires a precise diagnosis.

Are there home remedies for tongue problems?

For pain related to the tongue, over-the-counter pain-relief medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) may help. "Burning tongue" pain may be alleviated with sucking on ice or bathing the tongue in cold water. Such home remedies, however, may provide only temporary relief.

For the most part, tongue conditions that appear to have no known cause (such as an obvious injury) should be evaluated by a physician or dentist for appropriate diagnosis, monitoring, and possible treatment.

What are the treatments for tongue problems?

The treatment of a tongue problem depends on the underlying cause. For some tongue problems, no treatment is necessary whereas for other conditions, medications, surgery, or radiation may be needed. If the tongue issue is a result of an underlying medical condition, treatment of the underlying problem can be key to solving the problem.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2015

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