What Is Glossitis?

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The tongue is one of the most interesting parts of the body.

Your tongue is made up of eight muscles. It is one of the most flexible parts of your body and it houses between 2000 to 10 000 taste buds on its surface.

Your tongue also traps a considerable amount of bacteria in your mouth. 

When your tongue becomes inflamed or swollen, this is known as glossitis. 

How Do I Know I Have Glossitis? 

Glossitis causes your tongue to become irritated and appear red or smooth in appearance. 

This can make you find certain activities painful and difficult, such as talking, chewing and swallowing. 

There are other conditions that glossitis can be mistaken for, namely oral candidiasis and acid reflux. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor to confirm whether you have glossitis or not.

Causes Of Glossitis

There can be underlying conditions that cause glossitis. Diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome, which attacks the immune system, can cause dry mouth and inflammation of the tongue.  

Nutrient deficiencies in vitamin B, particularly B12, iron, folic acid and zinc can cause glossitis. There are conditions which cause these nutrient deficiencies, such as malnutrition, anaemia and celiac disease. Viral, bacterial and fungal infections may also cause glossitis. 

There are other factors which may increase the risk of contracting glossitis. Consuming substances such as tobacco and acidic, hot or spicy foods and drinks, can irritate your tongue. Any injury to your mouth can lead to glossitis, for example, the use of improperly fitted dental braces. 

An allergic reaction to an oral product or medication can also cause the tongue to become inflamed and swollen. A family history of a certain type of glossitis known as geographic tongue, can predispose you to having the condition as well. 

What Are The Different Types Of Glossitis?

  • Acute glossitis: Characterised by a sudden onset of inflammation and swelling of the tongue, acute glossitis can be quite severe. It is often due to an allergic reaction.
  • Chronic glossitis: Long-term inflammation of the tongue caused by nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, or infections can lead to glossitis becoming a chronic condition.
  • Atrophic glossitis: Characterised by a shiny and smooth tongue, this type of glossitis can be caused by nutritional deficiencies. Another name for it is Hunter glossitis.
  • Geographic tongue: Also known as benign migratory glossitis, it’s a type of glossitis that causes patches or a map-like pattern on the surface of the tongue.
  • Median rhomboid glossitis: A flat, dark red lesion along the middle and towards the back of the tongue is a characteristic of median rhomboid glossitis. It is often caused by a fungal infection.

How Can Glossitis Be Treated?

Once the cause of glossitis is identified, a suitable treatment can be administered. If your glossitis is due to a bacterial or fungal infection, for instance, an antibiotic or antifungal would be prescribed by your doctor to treat the infection. This would result in your glossitis resolving once the course of treatment has been completed.

Treatment also depends on the type of glossitis you have. If your doctor diagnoses you with acute glossitis, for example, the allergic reaction will have to be treated before you are cured.

Nutrient deficiencies which cause glossitis can be treated by supplementation. Blood tests can indicate which vitamins or minerals you are lacking. If you are found to have iron-deficiency anaemia, iron supplements will be prescribed along with Vitamin C to increase its absorption. 

Underlying conditions or diseases, such as Sjögren’s syndrome must be treated for glossitis to resolve. Autoimmune disorders are treated with medication that prevents the immune system from attacking healthy tissues in your body. Corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressants would be prescribed to reduce inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may also be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation of the tongue. 

Your dentist can be consulted to treat any oral injuries which are causing glossitis. If you have dental braces, a proper fitting or readjustment can alleviate symptoms of glossitis.

Are There Ways To Prevent Glossitis?

Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of glossitis. Therefore, abstaining from particular activities and substances can help prevent glossitis. It can also prevent active glossitis from becoming much worse.

  • Avoid irritants: Abstain from smoking and chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol. Avoid eating and drinking spicy, hot and acidic foods or drinks.
  • Improve your oral hygiene: Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day. Floss once a day and use a mouthwash. Ensure you visit your dentist for check ups twice a year.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Ensure you are getting enough nutrients, specifically vitamin B12, iron, zinc and folic acid. Take a multivitamin that includes a good percentage of vitamins and minerals, not greater than their recommended daily allowances (RDA).
  • Manage your underlying conditions: As advised by your doctor and take prescribed treatments and medications consistently.

When Should I Consult A Doctor About Glossitis?

The swelling and inflammation of your tongue can cause difficulties in speaking, chewing and swallowing. In severe cases, the tongue can swell up enough to block your airways. If you have difficulty breathing, you should make arrangements to see your doctor immediately. 

If glossitis does not resolve within 10 days, consult your doctor. However, treating glossitis early can prevent it from becoming severe and save you a lot of pain and discomfort.


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