Why Is My
Tongue Sore?

Why is my tongue sore? A sore tongue can be really annoying and sometimes very painful - And I know from personal experience! I accidently bit the side of my tongue quite badly a few years ago, and I STILL have a small swollen area and occasional tongue pain in that area.

But if you don't know the cause of your sore tongue, you may be very worried about it. Fortunately, the causes of a sore tongue are usually nothing serious.

When I bit my tongue, I had a really sore tongue for about a week. Although I am a dentist myself, I was worried enough to go see a specialist about it! Fortunately I didn't need any treatment, but the specialist was impressed with my attempt to chew a piece out of my own tongue. Definitely NOT recommended!

Enough of me. A sore tongue can have MANY possible causes, and biting your tongue is just one of them! Here's a list of EIGHT possibilities, with the most common causes coming up first:

A tongue with an ulcerA sore tongue

Why Is My
Tongue Sore?
The Causes

  • Simple small ulcer. Look at your tongue in a mirror. You may see a tiny ulcer, almost too small to see, but very tender. If it's on the tip of your tongue it can be impossible to avoid, and you feel like you're catching it on every tooth all the time. This type of simple small ulcer usually heals on its own without any treatment in a few days.
  • Large aphthous ulcers. When you look in the mirror, this is a bigger ulcer, maybe up to a centimeter across. It looks HUGE, and can look a little scary. It commonly occurs on the side of your tongue. It will be white in the middle, with a red edge all around it.

This is very painful, as it rubs on the molars every minute of every hour! It can also look pretty nasty. This should settle down within 5 to 7 days. If you don't see any signs of it healing in that time, get a dentist to take a look. There's no specific treatment that will help it heal more quickly.

Why Is My
Tongue Sore?
- Trauma

This is the most common cause of a sore tongue. Other websites that have NOT been written by a dentist will often list the various types of trauma separately - BUT they are all traumatic tongue injuries, so I have listed them together under the heading of trauma;

  • Trauma - Here are SEVEN causes of trauma to the tongue. The most common is probably a sharp tooth cusp. It's pretty obvious what the cause is, as the sore bit sits right next to the sharp tooth. So your tongue will rub on the sharp cusp all the time. The tooth cusp gets sharp over time as your teeth wear down; sometimes a molar tooth will wear down most in the middle of the biting surface, leaving an edge that is as sharp as a bread knife!

Get your dentist to check it, and he'll probably just polish down the sharp edge for you. The your sore tongue will heal up in about 5 to 7 days.

- A sharp denture edge is very similar to a sharp tooth cusp. The trouble is, you may have had your denture for a while, and you've got used to it - so when the gum shrinks a little over time, and starts to get rubbed by the denture, you don't realize what's going on. You've had the denture for a year or two, and it's never rubbed before. So you're not expecting it! The answer is simple - Get the denture smoothed down by your dentist.

- A bitten tongue most often leaves a cut in your tongue. Although it's very painful at the time, and will bleed a little, it will heal up quickly and leave no traces afterwards. You will KNOW that this is the cause of your sore tongue, because it's very sore the instant you bite it - OUCH! Again, it will take 5 to 7 days to settle down.

Why Is My
Tongue Sore?

- A haemangioma from biting is what I've got! Basically you burst a couple of small capillaries inside the tongue, so it swells up a bit in the spot, goes blue, and then heals in that shape, with bigger blood capillaries there too.

You can tend to bite it again after a while because it's bigger and sticks out a bit from the rest of your tongue. Sometimes a specialist will recommend an injection to shrink the swelling down.

- Burns from hot drinks; if you scald your tongue with a hot drink, chances are that your palate and lips will be even worse off. The burn can look quite scary, with a big white patch in the middle. Get a dentist to look at it. This usually heals on it's own, but you'll be eating only ice-cream for a week!

The clue for you that it's nothing serious is that it has appeared suddenly and is very tender to anything touching it. It will look like a red patch, and slightly swollen.

  • Aspirin burn. If you have a small ulcer on your tongue, or you nipped your tongue when eating, it can be tempting to place an aspirin tablet right next to the sore bit.

This can cause an aspirin burn. The aspirin can cause a chemical burn on the gum or tongue, leaving a large, nasty-looking ulcer. The best advice is NOT to place an aspirin tablet directly on the gum! If you already have an aspirin burn, just leave it alone. Time will heal it.

  • Allergies. You can get a sore tongue from an allergic reaction to a new toothpaste or any foodstuff, for example. It will be fairly obvious that you only get tongue pain after eating the specific food, so tracking down the cause doesn't take too long.

You can help a sore tongue by avoiding anything that might irritate it; some recent research points to a common ingredient in almost all toothpastes - sodium lauryl sulfate - as an irritating agent. This is basically a type of soap, and causes your toothpaste to froth up so that it "feels more effective". 

The BEST toothpaste that does NOT contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is from TheraBreath. I strongly recommend the standard TheraBreath toothpaste! From Amazon.

TheraBreath Oxygenating toothpaste

BUT you have to use the TheraBreath mouthwash too, after brushing, for the best results! I really like TheraBreath products. Have a look at the TheraBreath Oral Rinse, also from Amazon.

  • Tongue infections. This usually affects folks with dentures, and causes red and sore lips at the corners of the mouth. It can also affect the tongue. Your dentist can check it, and prescribe an anti-fungal gel or lozenge to suck. Sometimes he will prescribe tablets to swallow which go through your entire system, to deal with the infection. (A common one is called Fluconazole).
  • Burning tongue syndrome. This an annoying and troublesome condition where your tongue feels sore and hot for no obvious reason. It's quite common, and so I have written a page all about it. Check the burning tongue syndrome page for more information about this troublesome syndrome.
  • Cancer of the tongue. This is the one cause of a sore tongue we usually don't want to talk about. If you notice any swelling or any ulcer that doesn't obviously start to improve within a few days, get it checked. If you're wondering what to look for, you can see photos of some example at my page on tongue cancer pictures.
tongue cancer imagetongue cancer

It has been proven over and over again, without any shadow of a doubt, that the sooner you get a cancer diagnosed, the quicker and simpler the treatment is. And more successful.

These are the most common sore tongue causes, and the most usual treatments. There are other causes of tongue pain, but these tend to be quite rare. As always, if you have ANY doubts at all, get it checked by a doctor or dentist.


DON'T put it off 'til next week!

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