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.
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.
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.