Glossitis refers to inflammation of the tongue. The condition
causes the tongue to swell in size, change in color, and develop a smooth
appearance on the surface. The tongue is the small, muscular organ in the mouth
that helps you chew and swallow food. It also helps with your speech.
Glossitis can cause the small bumps on the surface of the tongue
called the papillae to disappear. Your papillae play a role in how you eat.
They contain thousands of tiny sensors called taste buds.
Severe tongue inflammations that result in swelling and redness can
cause pain and change the way you eat or speak.
Types of Glossitis
There are several different types of glossitis:
Acute glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that appears
suddenly, and it often has severe symptoms. This type of glossitis typically develops
during an allergic reaction.
Chronic glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that continues
to recur. This type may begin as a symptom of another health condition.
Idiopathic glossitis, also known as Hunter’s glossitis, affects
the muscles of the tongue. In this condition, a significant amount of papillae
can be lost. The cause of idiopathic glossitis is unknown.
Atrophic glossitis occurs when a large number of papillae are
lost, resulting in changes to the tongue’s color and texture. This type of
glossitis typically turns the tongue dark red.
A number of factors can cause inflammation of the tongue,
Allergic reactions to medications, food, and other potential
irritants may aggravate the papillae and the muscle tissues of the tongue.
Potential irritants include toothpaste and certain types of medications that
treat high blood pressure.
Certain diseases that affect your immune system may attack the
tongue’s muscles and papillae. Herpes simplex, a
virus that causes cold sores and blisters around the mouth, may contribute to
swelling and pain in the tongue.
Low Iron Levels
An inadequate amount of iron in the blood can trigger glossitis.
Iron regulates cell growth by helping your body make red blood cells. Red blood
cells carry oxygen to your organs, tissues, and muscles. Low levels of iron in
the blood may result in low levels of myoglobin. Myoglobin is a protein in red
blood cells that’s important for muscle health, including the tongue’s muscle
Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva, which may be due to a
salivary gland disorder or overall dehydration. You need saliva to keep your
Trauma caused by injuries to the mouth can affect the condition
of your tongue. Inflammation may occur as a result of cuts and burns on the
tongue or of dental appliances placed on your teeth, such as braces.
Is at Risk for Glossitis?
You may be at risk for tongue inflammation if you:
- have a mouth injury
- eat spicy foods
- wear braces or dentures that irritate your tongue
- have herpes
- have low iron levels
- have dry mouth
- have food allergies
- have an immune system disorder
Are the Symptoms of Glossitis?
Your symptoms may vary depending on the cause of the inflammation.
In general, however, you can experience the following symptoms:
- pain or tenderness in the tongue
- swelling of the tongue
- change in the color of your tongue
- an inability to speak, eat, or swallow
- loss of papillae on the surface of your tongue
Is Glossitis Diagnosed?
You may see your dentist or doctor for an assessment of your
condition. They’ll examine your mouth to check for abnormal bumps and blisters
on your tongue, gums, and soft tissues of your mouth. Samples of your saliva
and blood may also be taken and sent to a laboratory for further examination.
Is Glossitis Treated?
Treatment for glossitis typically includes a combination of
medications and home remedies.
Antibiotics and other medications that get rid of infections may
be prescribed if bacteria are present in your mouth or body. Your doctor may
also prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone,
to reduce the redness and soreness.
Brushing and flossing your teeth several times a day may improve
the health of your tongue, gums, and teeth. This can help relieve the symptoms
associated with glossitis and prevent the condition from happening again.
Can Be Expected in the Long Term?
In most cases, glossitis goes away with medication. Treatment may
be more successful if you avoid foods that cause inflammation of the tongue. Practicing
proper oral hygiene may also help reduce or prevent further problems. Speak
with your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with treatment or continue to
Call 911 or go to the hospital right away if your tongue becomes
severely swollen and begins to block your airway. This may be a sign of a more