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ICD-10 K14.0
ICD-9 529.0

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Luke Rusowicz-Orazem, B.S.

Glossitis is inflammation or infection of the tongue. It causes the tongue to swell and change color. Finger-like projections on the surface of the tongue (papillae) may be lost, causing the tongue to appear smooth.

Glossitis usually responds well to treatment if the cause of inflammation is removed. This disorder may be painless, or it may cause tongue and mouth discomfort. In some cases, glossitis may result in severe tongue swelling that blocks the airway, a medical emergency that needs immediate attention.


Common Causes

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular Kawasaki disease, Kwashiorkor amyloidosis
Chemical/Poisoning Lincomycin hydrochloride, Tobacco
Dental No underlying causes
Dermatologic Erythema multiforme, Lichen planus, Pemphigus vulgaris, Psoriasis, Scarlet fever
Drug Side Effect Albuterol, Deserpidine, Doxycycline, Meropenem, Reserpine, Tetracycline, Tubocurarine 
Ear Nose Throat Benign migratory glossitis, Median rhomboid glossitis, Poor oral hygiene, Xerostemia
Endocrine Plummer-vinson disease
Environmental Smoking
Gastroenterologic Ariboflavinosis, Carcinoid syndrome, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease
Genetic Celiac disease, Cowden disease
Hematologic Anemia, Angular cheilitis, Cheilosis, Iron deficiency anemia, Iron deficiency
Iatrogenic Mouthwash
Infectious Disease Aids, Aphthous ulcer, Candidiasis, Herpes simplex, Syphilis, Toxic shock syndrome, Whipple disease
Musculoskeletal/Orthopedic No underlying causes
Neurologic Peripheral neuropathy,
Nutritional/Metabolic Ariboflavinosis, Dana syndrome , Dehydration, Folate deficiency, Iron deficiency anemia, Malnutrition, Niacin deficiency, Pellagra, Pyridoxine deficiency, Riboflavin deficiency, Thiamine deficiency, Zinc deficiency
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic Carcinoid syndrome, Cowden disease, Glucagonoma
Ophthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose/Toxicity Alcoholism
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary No underlying causes
Renal/Electrolyte Dehydration
Rheumatology/Immunology/Allergy Allergic reaction , Immunocompromise, Kawasaki disease, Kwashiorkor amyloidosis, Lichen planus
Sexual Aids, Herpes simplex
Trauma Trauma
Urologic No underlying causes
Miscellaneous Spices

Causes in Alphabetical Order


  • Tongue swelling.
  • Smooth appearance to the tongue.
  • Tongue color changes (usually dark "beefy" red).
  • Sore and tender tongue.
  • Difficulty with chewing, swallowing, or speaking.

A health care provider should be contacted if symptoms of glossitis persist for longer than 10 days, if tongue swelling is severe, or if breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing become difficult.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

A painful tongue may be an indication of several underlying serious medical conditions and nearly always merits assessment by a doctor or dentist [1]


The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation. Treatment usually does not require hospitalization unless tongue swelling is severe. Good oral hygiene is necessary, including thorough tooth brushing at least twice a day, and flossing at least daily. Corticosteroids such as prednisone may be given to reduce the inflammation of glossitis. For mild cases, topical applications (such as a prednisone mouth rinse that is not swallowed) may be recommended to avoid the side effects of swallowed or injected corticosteroids. Antibiotics, antifungal medications, or other antimicrobials may be prescribed if the cause of glossitis is an infection. Anemia and nutritional deficiencies must be treated, often by dietary changes or other supplements. Avoid irritants (such as hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and tobacco) to minimize the discomfort.


Good oral hygiene (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular professional cleaning and examination) may be helpful to prevent these disorders. Drinking plenty of water and the production of enough saliva, aid in the reduction of bacterial growth. Minimize irritants or injury in the mouth when possible. Avoid excessive use of any food or substance that irritates the mouth or tongue.


  1. "Pain in the tongue".

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