The tongue is sensitive to pain. Canker sores, injuries, or infections may cause discomfort across part or all of the tongue. Treatments will largely depend on the cause.
A person can treat a sore tongue with some simple home remedies. However, certain health conditions may trigger tongue pain, and these will need medical attention.
This article explores home remedies and different medications for a sore tongue, as well as potential causes of pain.
There are many ways to treat a sore tongue. Home remedies and other methods include:
Maintaining good oral hygiene
Keeping the mouth clean could help heal a sore tongue. Brushing teeth and mouth rinsing reduces harmful bacteria, which lowers the risk of infection.
A person should use a soft toothbrush to avoid irritating and scratching the mouth. They should also avoid using strong mouthwash, as this could aggravate sore tongues.
Sucking on ice
Sucking ice chips could help ease the discomfort of a sore tongue. People should take care not to chew or bite into the ice, which could damage the tooth enamel or break a tooth.
A person should leave ice chips out of the freezer for a few seconds before putting them in the mouth. This melts the surface, reducing the risk of an ice chip sticking to the tongue.
Rinsing the mouth with saltwater
If a person has a tongue injury, keeping the wound clean could promote healing. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggest a gentle saltwater rinse may reduce the risk of infection.
To create a rinse, add half a teaspoon of salt to a small glass of warm water. Gently swill the saltwater around the mouth a few times, then spit.
Rinsing the mouth with cool chamomile tea
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, chamomile is a herbal remedy that can soothe mouth sores. Although it is generally safe, there is limited evidence for its benefits.
People commonly consume chamomile as an infusion or in tea. To treat a mouth sore, a person can gently rinse the mouth with cooled tea. They can also soak a chamomile tea bag and press lightly on to the affected area.
Using sage as a herbal remedy
Sage is a herbal remedy and could reduce inflammation of the mouth. A person should steep sage leaves in boiling water and allow it to cool before rinsing. This may help alleviate canker sores on the tongue.
More research is needed to understand the full effects of sage on a sore throat or tongue. Currently, there is no solid evidence that the herb effectively treats any medical condition.
Applying honey to the sore
A 2019 review notes that honey has antibacterial properties and may promote wound healing after a burn. Winchester Hospital suggests this natural substance could help ease the symptoms of canker sores.
In an older study, participants smeared honey on their canker sores 4 times every day for 5 days. Afterward, they reported reductions in pain and ulcer size.
Being mindful of foods and drinks
Spicy, salty, or acidic foods may irritate the tongue and mouth. People should try to cut out spicy curries and meals that contain a lot of citric acid until a sore tongue heals. They should also avoid crunchy foods with sharp edges, such as chips, which could injure the tongue.
Soda can also irritate sore tongues or canker sores, so if a person wants to drink these beverages, they should use a straw.
Tobacco can slow wound healing and irritate the tongue. People with a sore tongue who smoke regularly may wish to try nicotine patches to help break their habit.
If home remedies are not effective, a person may consider using over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as pain relievers. For infected sores, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
OTC pain medication may reduce the discomfort of a sore tongue. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, could help reduce swelling. For severe canker sores, a doctor may prescribe stronger corticosteroids to treat swelling and pain.
Topical gels may ease canker sore pain by numbing the area. According to the ADA, they also provide a barrier against further irritation. This medication is available over the counter, but stronger topical gels may need a prescription.
A doctor may prescribe a medicated mouthwash to ease painful tongue sores. Therapeutic or medicated mouthwashes contain active ingredients that cosmetic mouthwashes do not.
However, people who undergo chemotherapy should speak to their doctor before they start taking vitamin supplements.
Medication to stimulate saliva
According to the ADA, dry mouth may cause oral thrush. People may experience a dry mouth after taking some medications. To treat this, a doctor can prescribe medication to encourage the mouth to produce saliva. Drinking enough fluids and chewing sugar-free gum may also help.
If a sore tongue is due to a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Symptoms include pain, inflammation, and the wound not showing any signs of healing.
There are many triggers for a sore tongue, with some more serious than others. These can include:
Canker sores are small ulcers that are usually white or grey, and can sometimes appear with a red border. They usually heal within 2 weeks.
It is easy to burn or bite the tongue when eating food. Loose wires from a brace or broken dentures may also injure the tongue.
If a person breaks their braces or dentures, they should get them fixed as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the tongue and mouth.
Chemotherapy and some medications may cause sores on the tongue. These sores should heal after the treatment ends. A prescription mouthwash may help. People should seek medical advice when they choose a mouthwash, as there are several options.
According to the ADA, some fungal infections affect the tongue. Oral thrush causes red and white patches on the tongue and in the mouth. Other symptoms may include pain, bad breath, and difficulty swallowing.
A person may wish to seek medical advice if a canker sore lasts for longer than 2 weeks, if there are multiple sores, or if an ulcer is large. A doctor may suggest medication or an oral bandage.
People should see a dentist if a denture, brace, or tooth injures the tongue. This will help prevent further damage to the mouth.
Minor cuts, burns, and canker sores should heal within 2 weeks. A sore tongue as a side effect of cancer treatment may appear 1–2 weeks after treatment starts and may persist until it ends. People can seek medical advice to ease painful symptoms.
Pain and discomfort can affect all or part of the tongue. A canker sore causes pain and irritation in a small area, while oral thrush may affect the entire tongue surface.
The treatment for a sore tongue depends on what causes it. In many cases, simple home remedies may ease pain and aid healing.
People can reduce the risk of tongue injuries from orthodontics and dentures with regular dental checkups. Good oral hygiene can help decrease the risk of oral infections and keep the mouth healthy.