A sore tongue is uncomfortable and hard to ignore, interfering with basic activities like speaking, drinking, and eating. A wide range of factors can cause a sore tongue, and while the symptom is often short-lived and relatively minor, in some cases, it indicates a more significant problem.

Biting Down

Everyone has accidentally bitten their tongue. The sudden shock of pain can come from distracted eating, chewing gum, or a sudden bump to the jaw, and depending on the severity of the incident, the pain can last for days. Deal with a bitten tongue by pressing a clean cloth against the cut until the bleeding stops, then rinsing the mouth with a one-to-one solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. Avoid overly hot, spicy, or sour foods until the cut heals.


Canker Sores

Canker sores or aphthous ulcers look bad and can be very painful, but they are not contagious. Numerous factors can cause them, including drug and food allergies and stress. Most are minor and do not need treatment — they should clear up in a week or two — but if they are recurrent or many develop at once, doctors may recommend a medicated mouth rinse.


Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue causes bald patches where the papillae that usually cover the tongue have worn away. Spicy or salty foods can cause stinging and burning. This benign condition can migrate, with one patch healing and another developing elsewhere. Treatments include prescription steroids and specially medicated mouth rinses.

geographic bald patches papillae patrisyu / Getty Images


B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 assists with cell metabolism, and lack of this essential B-vitamin can lead to symptoms like arrhythmia and dizziness. A bright red, swollen tongue is another primary sign. Treating this deficiency requires eating more foods rich in vitamin B12 or taking supplements.



Burning mouth syndrome or glossodynia is a condition that causes parts of the mouth, such as the tongue, or the whole area to burn, despite a lack of instigator. Experts often link this secondary issue to other diseases, such as infection or certain psychological disorders. Treatment depends on the determined cause, and diagnosis can be difficult.


Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a rare disorder where individuals experience pain in areas connected to the glossopharyngeal nerve, including the tongue. The nerve is irritated by everyday activities, such as chewing or speaking. In many cases, the root cause may remain unknown, but antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs can provide pain relief.


Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is an uncommon disease that erodes the mouth's mucous lining. Some experts believe that genetics play a part, because it's cause has been traced to an immune response that attacks the cells on the cheek and tongue . The chronic disease is generally treated with corticosteroids or, in more severe cases, immunosuppressants.

lichen planus mucous lining toeytoey2530 / Getty Images


Behçet's disease

Behçet’s disease is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and tissues. People with this disease go through recurring flare-ups and remission, and symptoms include ulcers on the tongue that are more abundant and painful than those with other causes. Soreness lasts for a couple of weeks and then passes, but returns. Most doctors prescribe pain control with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant medications.

Behçet’s disease tissue inflammation DragonImages / Getty Images



Smoking stains the teeth and causes bad breath, and it also leads to a sore tongue. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it limits blood flow to organs, making blood vessels less elastic over time. In addition to impacting nutrient delivery to cells, any damage to the tongue takes longer to heal. Such injuries may also be more vulnerable to infection. Stopping smoking can alleviate this cause of exacerbation.


Tongue Cancer

There are two types of tongue cancer: one affects the front two-thirds of the tongue, including the frenulum and salivary glands, and the other affects the back third, near the pharynx. Symptoms include a painful sore or lump on the tongue that will not go away, or bleeding that is not caused by obvious injury. Tongue cancer is treatable if caught early.


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