People of all ages can experience several different types of tongue disorders due to poor oral hygiene, infections, genetic tendencies, and various underlying medical conditions. The most common tongue disorders include geographic tongue, hairy tongue, glossitis, and cancer. Most problems that affect the tongue only cause slight discomfort and moderate changes in appearance, and are usually easy to treat. Tongue cancer, however, can lead to serious complications if not recognized and treated immediately by medical professionals. An individual experiencing any symptoms of tongue disorders should consult a physician to determine the best treatment options.
Geographic tongue is a common disorder that causes parts of the tongue to become abnormally smooth and red. The small bumps on the tongue known as papillae tend to disappear in patches. The condition it thought to arise from excessive stress, allergies, or changes in hormone levels. In addition, individuals with a family history of geographic tongue are at a higher risk of developing the disorder at some point in their lives. This condition is not usually painful, and often goes away on its own after a few months with regular brushing and rinsing.
Hairy and discolored tongue disorders arise when papillae turn dark and grow unusually long. These disorders are usually not accompanied by pain or other complications, and often result from poor oral hygiene, reactions to medication, or tobacco use. An individual can usually treat a hairy or discolored tongue by scrubbing it with a toothbrush, rinsing with an oral anesthetic, avoiding smoking, and consuming healthy foods and beverages.
An individual with glossitis typically experiences inflammation, swelling, and smoothing of the entire tongue. Glossitis can be caused by excessive tobacco use, bacterial infections, allergic reactions, anemia, or vitamin B-12 deficiencies. Most people experience slight discomfort and difficulty chewing and swallowing food due to irritated tissue on the tongue and inner mouth. Doctors typically suggest that the condition be treated at home by maintaining good oral hygiene, quitting smoking, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods. When the cause is determined to be anemia or vitamin deficiency, a physician may prescribe medications or supplements to treat the underlying conditions.
Occasionally, tongue disorders are caused by the emergence of cancer in the mouth. Tongue cancer can have genetic links or be related to long-term tobacco and alcohol use, among other causes. Individuals who notice small red and white patches on the tongue, irregularly-shaped bumps, and painful lesions should seek medical help immediately. Doctors can perform biopsies and physical examinations to make a cancer diagnosis and create effective treatment plans for the disorder.