How often have we found ourselves jumping in for the first bite of a steaming hot pizza slice only to realize that it was a tad too hot for our comfort? It is not uncommon to have our tongue or palate burnt by eating something excessively hot. Yes, I am talking about burning tongue which results when you accidentally or out of haste drink very hot beverage such as coffee or tea.
A burnt tongue can give a feeling of great discomfort in the mouth, often holding us back from being able to eat anything for a few days. However, there are many home remedies that can bring about some relief from a burnt tongue.
Let’s have a look at what a burning tongue feels like, what can be done to manage and treat a burning tongue and when you should visit your dentist for it.
What causes a burning tongue?
- Other than the obvious-eating or drinking something excessively hot, there are a few other causes of a burning tongue
- Dry mouth due to a systemic condition
- Infections from bacteria or fungi
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Burning tongue can also be a side effect of certain medications for hypothyroidism, diabetes, etc.
- Underlying systemic diseases like vitamin and mineral deficiencies, thyroid disorders, etc.(1)
- Severe traumatic injury to the mouth
It is essential to distinguish between a tongue burn caused due to food or drinks and that which occurs due to burning mouth syndrome (2) or any underlying disease.
Why does our tongue burn?
Just like excessive heat on any part of the body causes changes on the skin surface, a very hot stimulus on the tongue causes changes on its surface too.
Numerous small elevations called papillae cover our tongue. These papillae contain the taste buds which are the receptors to the different types of tastes.
During a tongue burn, it is these papillae which are damaged, giving the tongue a smooth superficial appearance and leading to loss of taste sensation temporarily.
Signs and symptoms of burning tongue
Typically, a burnt tongue will exhibit the same clinical features as that of a regular burn.
There will be redness over the burnt region, inflammation of the area and a swelling may or may not be distinguishable. Pain may persist for some time and there is a loss of taste sensation over that region due to damage to the taste buds.
If the degree of the burn is greater, there will be a formation of blisters. These are small fluid-filled elevations. It is not advised to pop these blisters at all. There may be temporary dryness of the mouth.
In very severe burns, there will be blackening of the surface and complete numbness over the area, along with pain and inability to taste.
Diagnosing a Burning tongue
A doctor can diagnose a burning tongue simply in examining your tongue. However, at home too, it can be diagnosed by the features of redness, pain, numbness, loss of taste sensation, and dryness of the mouth.
The affected part exhibits a greater degree of smoothness as compared to the rest of the tongue.
Complications of a burning tongue
If persistent and untreated, a burning tongue can get infected by micro-organisms and lead to a bigger pathology. Loss of taste sensation is a temporary and reversible complication of burning tongue.
Complications of burning mouth syndrome include persistent inability to eat and drink leading to weakness, fever, malnourishment.
Remedies for a Burnt Tongue
The most natural home remedy to manage a burning tongue is to apply something cold over it, just like we counteract any other burns on the body. Keep an ice cube in the mouth, or sip on cold water to soothe the tongue.
As the burnt area cools down, the pain and burning sensation begin to reduce, and one is likely to feel better. Make sure that the ice cube or cold water remains on the tongue for a while.
Rinsing the mouth with salt water is recommended because salt prevents the growth of bacteria or any other micro-organisms in the area, acting as an antiseptic and ultimately preventing infections.
Vitamin E capsules
Vitamin E is known to accelerate healing of burn wounds and prevent further damage to tissues. One capsule can be opened, and the contents from it can be placed on the burnt part of the tongue. This can be repeated three to four times a day.
Aloe vera extract is known to be an excellent home remedy to soothe burns. A freshly cut portion of a part of the aloe vera leaf can be used to extract the juice, which can then be gently applied over the burnt area.
Alternatively, the gel can be frozen to ice cubes, and placing these ice cubes over the burnt area provides relief. The only reason this is not preferred is due to the bitter taste of aloe vera.
Chewing on gum increases salivary flow in the mouth, and simultaneously the menthol in most gums activates the cold receptors on the tongue which give a soothing effect on the burnt area.
If the pain is a bother, painkillers can be taken. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, available as Paracetamol, Tylenol or other trade names can be taken to relieve the pain after a burnt tongue.
Some foods that help
Honey prevents pain and swelling over the burnt area, and a spoonful can be kept on the burnt tongue for a few minutes before swallowing. It reduces pain and swelling over the region.
However, honey should not be given to infants less than 12 months of age, and in those with any known allergies to the substance
A teaspoon of sugar kept over the affected part of the tongue provides instant pain relief.
Just like sugar, a small spoon of Yogurt placed over the burnt area also helps in cooling down and soothing the tongue. Alternatively, cold milk or ice cream will also do the job.
Other dos and don’ts
If blisters are formed over the tongue, do not pop them or burst them. These are filled with fluid and breaking them leaks the fluid which increases the risk of infection multifold.
Avoid eating anything hot, spicy or acidic. Hot coffee, pizza, etc. or vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes should be avoided to reduce irritation on the burnt region and promote healing.
Mouth breathing can be an effective way to ensure passage of cold air over the tongue and bring relief. However, this is not recommended for a longer duration as mouth breathing increases the risk of infection.
If the burning persists, recurs frequently or appears without any burn caused by food, you must visit your dentist to rule out Burning Mouth Syndrome, or any other systemic disease (3).
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome or BMS is different from a normal burning tongue. Burning Mouth Syndrome is a chronic condition where burning sensation on the tongue persists, even in the absence of any stimulus that to cause a burn.
In addition to the above symptoms of a burnt tongue, there may be a discharge of pus from the tongue.
A person may also feel a tingling sensation on the tongue, along with periodic dryness of mouth. A persistent bitter or unpleasant taste may remain in the mouth throughout. In addition to this, a person may also have systemic symptoms such as fever (4).
Final words on burning tongue
A burning tongue may be a price to pay for being overly enthusiastic for the first sip of that piping hot cup of coffee. But fret not as it can be managed fairly well with the home remedies explained above.
However, do visit your doctor if the symptoms persist for a longer time and become too severe to treat at home.