We all have bumps on our tongues. Usually the same color as the rest of the tongue, these bumps, known as fungiform papillae, are often unnoticeable, contributing to a rough texture. They contain our taste buds and temperature sensors, making them instrumental in how we consume food.
When your papillae, or taste buds, become inflamed and you’re suddenly seeing raised red bumps on your tongue, or bumps on the back of your tongue, it’s often not a cause for concern. If you’ve recently experienced injury from a bite or irritation from consuming a hot drink or food, your taste buds may swell up to form a bumpy texture along the tongue.
Common causes of enlarged papillae include:
- Lie bumps (transient lingual papillitis): Also referred to as TLP, lie bumps are fairly common and go away on their own over time. Characterized as small white or red bumps, lie bumps form when papillae become irritated and swollen. These bumps have been linked to stress, hormones, and particular foods, but what causes them has yet to be concretely identified.
- Eruptive lingual papillitis: Most common in children, this form of tongue bumps is contagious and can be accompanied by fever and swollen glands. Often caused by a viral infection, it clears up on its own within two weeks’ time and doesn’t require any treatment.
- Canker sores: Occurring anywhere inside the mouth including under the tongue, canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are painful red lesions. Though not contagious, their cause is unknown. Canker sores usually go away in about ten days with no treatment but several over-the-counter pain relievers can help.
- Medical conditions: Syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), cancer, and scarlet fever can all contribute to raised bumps forming on the tongue. If you may have any of these conditions, see your doctor right away for proper diagnosis.
- Glossitis: Often triggered by an allergy, smoking, or other irritant, glossitis leaves your tongue inflamed and smooth, rather than bumpy. See your doctor if your glossitis is chronic and stubborn.
- Lymphoepithelial cysts: Usually making an appearance under the tongue, the soft, yellow cysts are benign and can be removed through a surgical procedure.
- Traumatic fibroma: A pink growth directly on the tongue, traumatic fibroma is smooth in texture and often a sign of irritation.
Your papillae can become enlarged or inflamed for a number of reasons, most of which are usually harmless. However, if you experience chronic issues and are having difficulty eating, then it may be time to visit your health care professional.
No matter what’s causing your taste buds to become enlarged, taking a few simple steps can help
- Drink plenty of water
- Apply a topical oral gel to alleviate pain
- Use an alcohol-free mouthwash
- Avoid acidic or spicy foods that may irritate the tongue or gums
- Avoid tobacco products
In addition to the above, proper oral care can help keep tongue bumps from getting infected or becoming painful. Be sure to:
- Brush your teeth at least two times a day
- Floss once a day
- Gently clean your tongue, try a tongue scraper or an electric toothbrush with a tongue cleaning mode
- Visit your dental professional twice a year
Tongue bumps may leave you worried, embarrassed, or experiencing mild pain. Luckily, they are quite common and are often caused by a minor injury or harmless condition. Good oral hygiene can help curb symptoms, but if your tongue bumps are persistent, painful, and result in difficulty in eating or drinking, then see your doctor right away.
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