What is glossitis?

Glossitis is a condition characterized by a swollen, smooth-looking tongue that has changed color, commonly to an unusually dark red color. Glossitis is also called smooth tongue and burning tongue syndrome.

Your tongue is made up of muscles and helps you to talk, swallow, taste and chew. The upper surface of your tongue is lined with papillae, which are little bumps that help grip food as you chew and contain your taste buds. Glossitis involves acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) inflammation of the tongue that results in destruction of the papillae. Glossitis may cause discomfort and interfere with important everyday activities involving the tongue and mouth, such as speaking, chewing and swallowing. In some cases, glossitis can cause blockage of the airway and interfere with breathing.

Glossitis can occur alone, or it can be caused by diseases, disorders and conditions that may lead to serious complications in some cases. Glossitis can result from infection, inflammation, chronic dry mouth, allergy, nutritional disorders, trauma, and certain disorders, such as anemia. For example, you can develop glossitis from a yeast infection in the mouth, ill-fitting dentures, burns or other tongue injuries, or you may have a genetic susceptibility to the condition.

Treatment of glossitis involves treating the inflammation of the tongue, as well as any underlying cause of the glossitis. Depending on the cause, treatments may include medications, changes in diet, attention to oral hygiene, and other therapies.

In some cases, glossitis can be due to serious and even life-threatening diseases and conditions, such as bacterial or viral infections, syphilis, or certain forms of anemia. Seek prompt medical care if you have discomfort or changes in the appearance of your tongue, or other mouth or tongue symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of serious complications, such as severe tongue swelling that blocks the airway and interferes with breathing.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a swollen tongue, change in consciousness, or any difficulty breathing.


What are the symptoms of glossitis?

The symptoms of glossitis include:

  • Change in tongue color from its normal pink to a paler pink, dark red, or bright red

  • Pain or discomfort with chewing, swallowing or talking

  • Smooth texture and appearance of the tongue

  • Tongue pain, soreness or tenderness

  • ... Read more about glossitissymptoms


What causes glossitis?

Glossitis may occur by itself, or it may be caused by a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. Some causes of glossitis are potentially serious and even life threatening, such as pernicious anemia or pemphigus vulgaris (an autoimmune disorder). Other causes may be relatively mild, such as a small cut when you have ... Read more about glossitiscauses


How is glossitis treated?

Treatment of glossitis varies depending on the underlying cause. The goal of treatment is to control tongue inflammation regardless of the cause of glossitis. In addition to avoiding very hot liquids, treatment includes:

  • Anesthetic mouth rinses such as viscous lidocaine (Xylocaine)

  • Antihistamine mouth rinses such as diphenhydramine ( Read more about glossitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health