Brightly colored changes in the color of your tongue may be caused by
eating or drinking something that may have stained your tongue, such as soft
drinks or candy. The bright colors can be alarming. Stains caused by soft
drinks or candy will brush off or wear off.
A buildup of food debris and bacteria on the tongue may make the
tongue look thick or furry ("hairy tongue"). A person with a hairy tongue often has severe bad breath (halitosis).
Soreness is not usually present. Often the problems will
go away if the surface of the tongue is brushed with a soft-bristled
toothbrush. If your tongue problem is from some local irritation, such as
tobacco use, removing the source of the irritation may clear up the tongue
problem. Home treatment may be all that is needed.
Other common causes of tongue problems include:
Deep grooves (fissures) of the tongue. Although
deep fissures on the tongue are often normal, food particles can get stuck in
the grooves, causing inflammation and tenderness.
Lack of certain
vitamins or minerals in your diet, especially B vitamins.
infections (thrush), which produce white patches on the tongue and
inside of the mouth.
Injuries, such as biting, chewing, piercing,
or burning the tongue.
Common tongue problems include:
Redness and swelling (inflammation) of the tongue
(glossitis). Possible causes of glossitis include an allergy or infection, an injury to the
tongue, or a nutrition problem. Most cases of glossitis are minor and can be treated at
home. Glossitis may change how you chew, swallow, or speak until it goes away.
a condition in which the normal rough surface (papillae) of the tongue shrinks
or disappears, making the tongue look bald or shiny and thin. Without this
rough surface, the tongue may be tender and sensitive to spicy
foods. This problem can occur because of a lack
of folic acid, iron, riboflavin, or vitamin B12 in the diet over a long period
of time. With good nutrition, symptoms generally improve in 2 to 4
Other changes in the surface of the tongue. Your tongue may
look like it has grown hair (hairy tongue) or white fur (furry tongue), or it
may look like a road map (geographic tongue) with smooth, bright
red areas. Geographic tongue may cause pain or
in the color of the tongue. Your tongue may look black or
strawberry- or raspberry-colored. A bright red tongue that
occurs with fever, sore throat, or other symptoms may be more serious.
Rare, but serious, causes of tongue problems can include:
A severe allergic reaction, causing the tongue to
swell. This is an emergency and requires prompt medical
Oral cancer, which can cause a sore on
the tongue or a lasting feeling of numbness.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.