Glossitis typically causes tongue inflammation. There are different types and causes, and symptoms can vary between individuals. It can affect the tongue’s color and texture. Depending on the cause, medication may help treat it.

Along with swelling, glossitis can change the color and surface texture of the tongue because the condition causes the small bumps on the surface to shrink, creating a shiny, red surface.

Due to its symptoms and presentation, people may sometimes refer to glossitis as tongue inflammation, tongue infection, smooth tongue, or burning tongue syndrome.

Severe cases of glossitis can be painful and affect the way a person talks or eats. As a 2021 review explains, there are different types of glossitis, including:

  • Acute glossitis: This often develops suddenly and can have severe symptoms.
  • Chronic glossitis: This is often an underlying condition that causes chronic inflammation of the tongue.
  • Atrophic glossitis: Also called Hunter’s glossitis, here, many of the tongue’s small bumps (papillae) shrink, which changes the surface of the tongue, making it appear glossy.
  • Median rhomboid glossitis: A Candida yeast infection often causes this type of glossitis.

This article will look at the symptoms, causes, and risk factors for glossitis. It will also discuss its prevention, management, and outlook for people with glossitis.

The symptoms of glossitis vary from person to person. They may also differ according to the underlying cause of the condition.

Common symptoms of glossitis include:

  • a swollen tongue
  • pain in the tongue
  • burning or itching in the tongue
  • change in the texture of the surface of the tongue due to the change in the size and shape of papillae
  • different color of the tongue’s surface
  • loss of ability to speak or eat properly
  • difficulty swallowing

There is a variety of possible causes of glossitis, including:

Allergic reaction

When glossitis occurs due to an allergic reaction, a person could develop acute glossitis and have sudden tongue swelling and pain.

An allergy to a particular food, drug, or specific irritant can cause this type of reaction.

Injury to the mouth

Injuries to the mouth, such as small cuts from braces or burns from hot food, may cause the tongue to inflame and swell.

Importantly, when dental braces cause glossitis, a person may be at risk of chronic glossitis due to the risk of repeated injury to the mouth and tongue.


Certain diseases can cause glossitis, especially those where nutritional deficiencies occur, such as celiac disease, protein-calorie malnutrition, and pernicious anemia.

Diseases that attack the immune system, such as Sjögren’s disease, can cause changes in the mouth that lead to glossitis.


Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can all cause glossitis.

Oral herpes, which is a viral infection, and fungal yeast infections are among the infections known to cause glossitis.

Nutritional deficiencies

Iron deficiencies occur when a person does not have enough iron in their blood.

This can trigger glossitis since low levels of iron lead to low levels of myoglobin, a substance in the blood that plays a significant role in the health of all the muscles in the body, including the tongue.

A vitamin B12 deficiency may also cause glossitis.

Scientists are beginning to discover that some people may be at an increased risk of developing certain forms of glossitis.

For example, there is evidence that benign migratory glossitis is somewhat heritable.

There is also evidence that tobacco smokers, as well as those with arterial hypertension, are at risk of median rhomboid glossitis.

If a person has symptoms of glossitis, they can visit a dentist or a doctor.

At the exam, the examining healthcare professional will take a medical history and assess any symptoms the person reports.

The doctor or dentist will then examine the person’s mouth and tongue thoroughly. They will note any abnormalities in the tongue’s surface and look for blisters or bumps on the tongue or gums.

They may also take a swab of saliva for testing and order blood tests to check for underlying nutritional deficiencies or diseases.

Some forms of glossitis are trickier to diagnose than others. Some scientists believe that atrophic diagnosis may pose special diagnostic problems because doctors could easily mistake glossitis for many other conditions.

Treatment for glossitis depends on its cause. Generally, glossitis responds well to treatment once a doctor has determined the underlying cause.

Doctors may prescribe medications for people with glossitis when its cause is disease or infection.

Antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral drugs may help clear up a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, respectively.

A doctor may prescribe dietary supplements for someone with glossitis due to a nutritional deficiency. The doctor may also recommend ways to add more of the missing nutrient into a person’s diet.

If a nutrient deficiency is due to an underlying disease, such as celiac disease, a doctor may recommend treatment that includes dietary changes to manage the underlying condition.

It may not always be possible to prevent glossitis. However, a person can lower their risk of developing the condition by:

  • maintaining a healthful diet
  • practicing good oral hygiene with regular brushing, flossing, and mouthwashes
  • avoiding irritants, such as spicy foods, cigarettes, and acidic foods

Glossitis is not a form of cancer. However, a recent review explains that the symptoms of glossitis can sometimes resemble those of certain mouth cancers.

For this reason, when doctors suspect that someone with glossitis-like symptoms might have cancer, they will usually recommend a biopsy. This involves removing a small portion of the tongue before testing it for cancer cells.

If the symptoms do not go away after some time, a person should seek medical attention.

In cases where the tongue is severely swollen and starts to block the airways, a person should seek emergency medical attention because this may indicate a serious underlying condition.

A person with glossitis can generally expect to make a full recovery, although this will take time and require proper treatment.

During treatment, a person should avoid eating foods that may irritate the tongue and maintain good oral hygiene through brushing and flossing.

One common complication of glossitis is anxiety, which arises when people become self-conscious about their tongue’s appearance. It may be helpful for those with this anxiety to receive counseling or therapy.

Glossitis is a condition with numerous types and causes, symptoms of which may vary from one person to another.

Either a dentist or a doctor can diagnose a person with glossitis.

The treatments for glossitis depend on the cause and include various medications and dietary supplements.

With time and correct treatment, most people with glossitis will make a full recovery.