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Tongue Sores

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Last updated March 26, 2021

Tongue sore quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your tongue sore.

Understand the causes of tongue soreness and how to treat it.

4 most common causes

Cold Sore
Canker Sore
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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Melanoma of the mouth

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7 causes of a tongue sore

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Mucous cyst (mucocele)

A mucocele (mucous cyst) is NOT a serious tumor. It's typically caused by repeated biting leading to leakage of mucous from damaged mucous ducts, which accumulates and creates a cyst. It's most commonly found in kids, and usually inside the lower lip but also possibly under the tongue or in the inner cheek.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: painful mouth sore, painless mouth sore, single mouth sore, sores on the inner cheek, sores on the inner lip

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Melanoma of the mouth

Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck (MMHN) is a rare cancer that is approximately 10% of melanomas arising in the head and neck and approximately 1% of all malignant melanomas. It is more common in an elderly population and has a poor prognosis.

You should see your doctor in the next 24 hours, where a biopsy of your lesion is diagnostic. Surgical removal is generally considered the primary treatment whenever the lesion is able to be removed. Radiation therapy has not yet been well proven, but it is often used after surgery to improve control of the disease.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: gum pain, gum swelling, brown-colored skin changes, black-colored skin changes, mouth rash resembling an amalgam tattoo

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Tongue sore quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your tongue sore.

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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by different types of enteroviruses. There is no connection to hoof-and-mouth disease, which only affects livestock.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is very contagious. The virus is carried in the secretions of the nose, mouth, rash blisters, and feces of an infected person.

Anyone coming into contact these substances, even through the air, can contract the disease.

Most susceptible are children under age 5, though the disease can occur in older children and adults.

Symptoms include sores and blisters inside the mouth; reddened, blistering skin rash on palms of hands and soles of feet; loss of appetite and dehydration due to difficulty with eating and drinking; and fever.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes testing of throat swab or stool sample.

Treatment involves supportive care with fluids, rest, and mild pain relievers. Do not give aspirin to children. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness.

There is no vaccine against hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Frequent and thorough handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of the illness.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: loss of appetite, cough, fever, new headache, sore throat

Symptoms that always occur with hand-foot-and-mouth disease: spontaneous skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Cold sore

A cold sore, also called a fever blister or herpes, is actually a collection of tiny, fluid-filled, crusted blisters.

Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2. The sores are highly contagious through direct contact, such as kissing or oral sex, even when no sore is visible.

Most susceptible are young adults who are sexually active, though anyone can be infected. The virus can also survive on shared towels, eating utensils, etc.

Symptoms include a tingling or burning sensation around the lips, nose, or cheeks a day or so before the blisters appear. There may also be fever, sore throat, and other flu-like symptoms.

The herpes simplex virus cannot be cured, but cold sores can be managed under medical supervision to ease discomfort and help prevent transmission or complications.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

The blisters usually heal within two to four weeks, but the virus remains dormant within the body and can recur at any time. Antiviral creams or pills are sometimes used to help the healing process.

Canker sore

Canker sores are small, grayish-white sores in the mouth, often on the inside of the cheeks, lips, and on the tongue. No one really knows why canker sores happen, but it seems to be inherited and susceptible to vitamin deficiencies and allergies.

You can safely treat this condition on your own using Chlorhexidine mouth washes (Peridex or Periogard) or steroid medications (Orabase, Betnesol, or Ovar).

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: painful mouth sore, numerous mouth sores, mouth sore surrounded by a red area, single mouth sore, oral ulcer

Symptoms that always occur with canker sore: painful mouth sore

Urgency: Self-treatment

Mouth and throat sores from cancer treatment

Mouth sores are a common side effect of cancer treatment (chemotherapy or radiation therapy). Some types of chemotherapy are more likely to cause this than others. Cancer treatments are used to kill the bad cancerous cells, but unfortunately they also affect healthy cells. The cells of the inner lining of your mouth, esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to stomach) and stomach can get damaged too. This can result in symptoms like red areas or a burning feeling in the mouth, painful sores and painful or difficulty swallowing.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms:

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Tongue sore quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your tongue sore.

Take tongue sore quiz

Oral herpes

Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This typically happens early in childhood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fever, gum pain, painful mouth sore, gum swelling, gum redness

Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes: gum pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Questions your doctor may ask about tongue sore

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Do you have a rash?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Have you lost your appetite recently?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Tongue sore symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced tongue sore have also experienced:

  • 8% Sore Throat
  • 3% White, Lacy Plaque On Tongue
  • 3% Swollen Tongue

People who have experienced tongue sore were most often matched with:

  • 60% Mucous Cyst (Mucocele)
  • 20% Cold Sore
  • 20% Canker Sore

People who have experienced tongue sore had symptoms persist for:

  • 47% Less than a week
  • 26% Less than a day
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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