Overview

Tongue pain
Tongue pain

When you contact your dental practice or Health Board for a dental appointment, you MUST tell them if you have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) OR you are currently self-isolating OR you have possible symptoms.

Dental practices have to comply with social distancing measures so please do not attend without having made an appointment first.

If you have a mouth ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks, call your dental practice for advice.

A sore or painful tongue is usually caused by something obvious and visible, although there are less obvious causes that may need treatment.

Are dental practices open if you need advice or treatment?

Yes, dental practices are open during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

If you have a sore tongue, call your dental practice for advice. They will carry out remote consultation over the phone/video before seeing you in person at the practice if treatment is required.

If you do not have a regular dentist you need to call the appropriate dental helpline number for your Local Health Board area.

Even without a formal diagnosis there are some things you can do to manage a sore tongue:

  • Avoid things which make the soreness worse (hot drinks, hard to chew food, spicy food etc.)
  • Keep your mouth and tongue clean using a toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Try using a mouthwash, or rinsing with warm salty water, at a different time to brushing
  • Consider stopping smoking. For help and support with this, visit https://www.helpmequit.wales or call Freephone 0808 163 3129

This page provides information on:

  • Geographic tongue
  • Oral thrush#amu
  • Aphthous mouth ulcers
  • Less common causes

You shouldn't use the information on this page to diagnose yourself with a condition – always leave that to a healthcare professional.

You shouldn't use the information on this page to diagnose yourself with a condition – always leave that to a healthcare professional.

Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition where irregular smooth, red patches that have a white or light-coloured border occur on the tongue. It's called geographic tongue because the patches have a map-like appearance.

The patches can vary in size, and may occur on one area of the tongue before moving to another area after a few days, weeks or months.

In some people, the patches can feel sore or sensitive when consuming certain foods and drinks.

Some people with geographic tongue find it improves over time, while for others it may be more persistent.

The cause of geographic tongue isn't clear and there's no specific treatment for it.

However, you may be able to manage the pain by taking over-the-counter painkillers – speak to your pharmacist for advice.

You should also avoid anything that makes it worse, such as acidic, spicy or hot foods.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush (oral candiasis) is an infection caused by a type of fungus called Candida.

It causes white patches (plaques) to develop in the mouth. You may experience a loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in your mouth. It can also be painful, making eating and drinking difficult.

Median rhomboid glossitis is a condition that can affect your tongue if you have oral thrush. It causes a red, smooth patch or lump to develop in the middle of the top part of your tongue, which can be sore.

You're more likely to develop oral thrush if you:

Try the following measures at home, which can improve the condition of your mouth:

  • keep your teeth clean by brushing them for 2 minutes twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste
  • use a mouthwash such as Corsodyl at a different time to brushing. Sometimes warm salty water can help improve soreness in the mouth too
  • drink plenty of water
  • try chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production
  • if you use an inhaler, rinse with water after use
  • if you wear dentures, make sure that you leave them out overnight and keep them clean

If the soreness cannot be managed at home with the measures outlined above, call your dental practice for advice.

If you are not registered with a dental practice or you can’t get through to them, try calling your Health Board’s normal urgent dental care telephone number.

Sometimes oral thrush is treated with antifungal medicines, often in the form of a gel or liquid that you apply directly to the inside of your mouth.

You'll usually need to use it several times a day for around 7 to 14 days.

Aphthous mouth ulcers

Aphthous mouth ulcers are painful round or oval sores that can occur anywhere in the mouth and are common on the underside of the tongue.

Mouth ulcers are sometimes caused by damage to the mouth, such as accidentally biting your tongue or eating something hard and sharp.

Ulcers that keep recurring may be caused by stress, anxiety, eating certain foods, stopping smoking, or hormonal changes – some women develop mouth ulcers during their monthly period.

Most mouth ulcers heal within a week or two without treatment. In the meantime, you may be able to manage the pain by taking over-the-counter painkillers and avoiding anything that makes it worse, such as eating spicy foods.

If you have a mouth ulcer that doesn't improve within 3 weeks contact your dental practice by telephone for advice. If you are not registered with a dental practice, call NHS Direct/111 or your Health Board’s normal urgent dental care telephone number.

Less common causes

Less commonly, tongue pain may be caused by:

  • a viral infection – such as an infection that causes hand, foot and mouth disease or cold sores
  • vitamin deficiencies and anaemia – a sore tongue can sometimes be a symptom of iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia
  • glossodynia or "burning mouth syndrome" – a burning pain on the tip of the tongue that often affects people with depression
  • glossopharyngeal neuralgia – repeated episodes of severe tongue pain thought to be caused by nerve irritation
  • lichen planus – a long-term skin condition that causes an itchy rash and can also affect the mouth, causing a white lacy pattern and painful patches on the tongue
  • Behçet's disease – a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and can also lead to painful mouth ulcers
  • pemphigus vulgaris – a rare and serious condition that causes painful blisters to develop on the skin, as well as inside the mouth, nose, throat, anus and genitals
  • medications – painful mouth ulcers can be a side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and beta-blockers; certain mouthwashes can also cause tongue pain in some people
  • Moeller's glossitis – a type of inflammation of the tongue
  • cancer of the tongue – although this is rare

Click on the links above for more information on these conditions and medications.


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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 19/08/2020 13:22:35