The tongue is mainly made up of muscles. It is covered with a mucous membrane. Small bumps (papillae) cover the surface of back part of the tongue.
- Between the papillae are the taste buds, which allow you to taste.
- The tongue moves food to help you chew and swallow.
- The tongue also helps you form words.
There are many different reasons for changes in the tongue's function and appearance.
Problems Moving the Tongue
Tongue movement problems are most often caused by nerve damage. Rarely, problems moving the tongue may also be caused by a disorder where the band of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth is too short. This is called ankyloglossia.
Tongue movement problems may lead to:
- Breastfeeding problems in newborns
- Difficulty moving food during chewing and swallowing
- Speech problems
Taste problems can be caused by:
- Damage to the taste buds
- Nerve problems
- Side effects of some medicines
- An infection, or other condition.
The tongue normally senses sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. Other "tastes" are actually a function of the sense of smell.
Increased Size of the Tongue
Tongue swelling occurs with:
The tongue may get wider in people who have no teeth and do not wear dentures.
Sudden swelling of the tongue can happen due to an allergic reaction or a side effect of medicines.
Color changes may occur when the tongue becomes inflamed (glossitis). Papillae (bumps on the tongue) are lost, causing the tongue to appear smooth. Geographic tongue is a patchy form of glossitis where the location of inflammation and the appearance of the tongue change from day to day.
Hairy tongue is a condition in which the tongue looks hairy or furry. It can sometimes be treated with antifungal medicine.
Sometimes the upper surface of the tongue turns black or brown in color. This is an unsightly condition but it is not harmful.
Pain In the Tongue
Pain may occur with glossitis and geographic tongue. Tongue pain may also occur with:
After menopause, some women have a sudden feeling that their tongue has been burned. This is called burning tongue syndrome or idiopathic glossopyrosis. There is no specific treatment for burning tongue syndrome, but capsaicin (the ingredient that makes peppers spicy) can offer relief to some people.