Bumps on Tongue: 10 Common Causes (& What to Do)

Updated in October 2023

Bumps on the tongue generally emerge after eating very hot or acidic foods, which irritate the taste buds. They can also appear after biting your tongue, leading to pain and discomfort when talking or eating. 

These bumps usually disappear on their own after some time. Nonetheless, bumps can also be a sign of a more serious problem, like an HPV infection or oral cancer.

If the bumps on your tongue do not resolve, or if they occur with other symptoms like intense redness, pain or fever, for example, you should see your doctor or dentist for assessment. They can identify the cause and initiate appropriate treatment. 

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The main causes of bumps on the tongue are: 

1. Taste bud inflammation or irritation 

Taste buds are small structures on the tongue that can become damaged due to anxiety, acidic foods, hot foods or cigarette smoking. Inflammation of the taste buds can lead to small red bumps on the tongue, which can reduce your ability to taste and cause pain with teeth brushing. 

What to do: If your tongue bumps are related to taste bud inflammation or irritation, you should see your doctor to prevent further complications, like infections. Foods like pineapple, kiwi and hot coffee can worsen symptoms. 

2. Canker sore

Canker sores are small, flat ulcers that can emerge in any area of the mouth including the tongue. They can make talking or eating uncomfortable. These sores often appear for many reasons, including increased mouth PH (which can happen with poor digestion), biting your tongue, stress, using braces and vitamin deficiencies. Learn more about what can cause canker sores on the tongue and symptoms associated with them. 

What to do: Canker sores normally disappear within a few days, however if they are large or do not heal, you should see your doctor for assessment and possible treatment.

3. Yeast infection 

A yeast infection in the mouth, also known as oral thrush, is characterized by an increased growth of fungal cells in the mouth. It can lead to the formation of white plaques and bumps on the throat and tongue. This infection is common in babies due to their underdeveloped immune system and lack of oral hygiene following feeds. It can also occur in adults with weakened immune systems. 

What to do: If you notice white plaques or bumps on your mouth, you should start treatment with antifungals like nystatin or miconazole. It is also important to practice adequate oral hygiene. 

4. Oral chlamydia

Chlamydia is transmitted through sexual contact with the genitals, anus and even the mouth. While oral chlamydia does not spread through casual contact, like kissing or sharing drinks, it can spread through oral sex if one of the sexual partners is infected. Bumps felt on the tongue from chlamydia are usually painless, and may be accompanied by other symptoms like redness within the mouth, white spots, and a sore or scratchy throat. 

Read more about what chlamydia is, the symptoms associated with it and how it is diagnosed.

What to do: If you notice symptoms in your mouth following unprotected oral sex, you should see your doctor for assessment. Diagnosis can be confirmed with an oral and throat swab, which is sent to the lab. Treatment involves the use of antibiotics. 

5. HPV

HPV is a sexually-transmitted illness that is most known for the appearance of genital warts. However, HPV can also cause small wounds or bumps on the sides of the tongue, the lips or on the roof of the mouth. These wounds can be flesh-colored or be more red or white in color.

What to do: If you have any symptoms of HPV, it is important to consult your doctor to start treatment. Treatment usually involves the use of specific ointments, which should be used daily as prescribed.

6. Oral cancer 

One of the symptoms of oral cancer is bumps on the tongue, similar to a canker sore. These bumps are painful and will bleed and grow over time. In addition, you may also notice red or white patches on the throat, gums or tongue, as well as small, superficial wounds that can interfere with eating and talking.

What to do: If your symptoms do not resolve within 15 days, you should see your doctor or dentist to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment. Treatment may involve the removal of any tumors followed by radiation or chemotherapy. 

7. B12 deficiency

A B12 deficiency can cause the appearance of ulcerated lumps on the tongue due to decrease immunity. It can trigger changes to the lining of the oral cavity and tongue cells.

A B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms like excessive fatigue, pallor and weakness, while more serious cases can present with shortness of breath, palpitations and vision changes. 

What to do: If you suspect you have low B12 levels, you should consult a doctor for assessment and testing, which will help to identify the underlying cause. Treatment usually involves B12 injections and supplementation. 

The doctor may also advise increased consumption of B12 foods to help bring your levels up.

8. Transient lingual papillitis

Transient lingual papillitis is an inflammation of the papillary buds on the tongue. It is associated with symptoms like painful bumps on the tongue (which can vary from just one to multiple), which commonly appear on the sides of the tongue, tip of the tongue or back of the tongue- 

Other symptoms that may emerge include the feeling of burning or numbness, changes to taste, or dry mouth. This condition is caused by tongue injuries, food allergies, hormonal changes or viral infections. 

What to do: Generally, symptoms disappear within a hours to days without any treatment. However, you should consult a family doctor, dentist or pediatrician if you symptoms are intense, occur frequently or persist. The doctor may recommend medications, like analgesics, or antiseptic mouth gargles. 

9. Herpes on the tongue

Although it is uncommon, herpes can develop on the tongue, causing ulcers with red edges or blisters with fluid on the surface. These bumps are associated with pain and swelling. They are contagious and are transmitted through the saliva, particularly if the bumps rupture. 

What to do: In general, herpes on the tongue does not require treatment, as the immune system is able to fight the virus on its own. However, there are some antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir and valacyclovir, which can be prescribed by your doctor to speed up healing.

10. Syphilis

When syphilis is transmitted through oral sex, it is possible for small bumps on the tip of the tongue to appear at the beginning of the disease. These are known as a chancres, and they typically have a lighter-colored center with raised, hard edges.

Read more about the symptoms of syphilis and how they can present.

What to do: it's important to consult a urologist or gynecologist so that the most appropriate treatment for syphilis can be indicated. It usually involves a penicillin injection, which is an antibiotic that is prescribed by a doctor.