What is Glossitis? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Glossitis means inflammation of the tongue. However, it fundamentally attacks the oral health, and if this condition remains untreated, then it tends to induce severe, life-threatening conditions.

Most of the times Glossitis is also seen as the manifestation of other systemic illness such as scarlet fever, AIDS, acid reflux, iron deficiency anemia, etc. The primary and secondary causes of glossitis need to be given proper attention as the line of treatment rests on the cause.


In general, you are expected to follow oral hygiene, avoid irritants, such as spicy food, alcohol, cigarette. A proper diet is another vital factor while you are going through this condition. Depending upon the need dentist also prescribe medications to improvise the condition.

Moving ahead, you will see glossitis in more detail.

What is Glossitis?

Glossitis is the inflammatory condition of the tongue. Inflammatory changes occur in the form of change in size, color, the texture of tongue.

The tongue is the primary organ of the gustatory system. It performs several functions including taste sensation, swallowing, speech. So, the peculiarities seen in the tongue can lead to mild or severe systemic health issues.

Glossitis also produces mouth discomfort. The etiology of the condition varies greatly, and the cause of the condition decides treatment.


Clinical expression of glossitis is readily distinguishable.  Commonly the following symptomatic changes are seen in glossitis –

  • The color of tongue changes as a fiery red showing the sign of inflammation
  • Change in the texture of tongue due to depapillation giving the shiny and smooth appearance
  • Pain
  • Sourness of tongue
  • Burning sensation
  • Swollen tongue
  • Difficulty in swallowing and speaking
  • Excessive enlargement in severe condition leads to airway obstruction


Glossitis has a varied number of primary causes and is also secondarily seen as the manifestation of some of the systemic diseases mentioned below. Causes of Glossitis listed below which includes –

  • Oral infections – Bacterial, fungal and viral infections cause glossitis. Fungal microflora proved to cause the median rhomboid glossitis very frequently.
  • Dietary deficiency – Nutritional deficiency of vitamin B, folic acid and iron lead to glossitis.
  • Hypersensitivity – Allergic reaction induced by specific drug, food or any other substance such as tobacco, alcohol, hot spices could be a potential cause of glossitis.
  • Mechanical trauma or irritation – Trauma to tongue due to faulty dentures or orthodontic brackets can cause glossitis.
  • Tongue piercing also sometimes leads to glossitis.
  • Xerostomia – Xerostomia refers to dry mouth. Reduced quantity of saliva also tends to reduce the antimicrobial action. The more natural growth of microflora causes oral infections which are the fundamental cause of glossitis.
  • Other causes – Glossitis has the genetic predominance. The condition also seems to associate with many systemic illnesses such as scarlet fever, AIDS, kwashiorkor, acid reflux, iron deficiency anemia, pernicious anemia.


You must visit the dentist if found the alteration in normal anatomy of the tongue. The significant changes occurring in glossitis are easily distinguishable.

The dentist performs proper evaluation and takes an appropriate history of the case. Adequate blood and saliva investigations decide the cause of the condition.

Types of Glossitis

Based on the clinical presentation of the condition, glossitis has following types –

1.Atrophic Glossitis

Another name for atrophic Glossitis is Bald Tongue. The clinical presentation shows the atrophy of papillae on the dorsal surface of tongue giving it bald (smooth and shiny) appearance.

Atrophy of papillae is a clinical presentation of nutritional deficiencies. Burning sensation, pain and erythema present in atrophic glossitis. (1)

2. Median Rhomboid Glossitis

Median Rhomboid Glossitis clinically presents as the ovoid, erythematous lesion on the posterior part of the dorsum of the tongue. The lesion shows depapillation and primarily constitutes of candida microflora.

This lesion present on tongue continually irritates the palatal mucosa and henceforth another erythematous lesion called as ‘kissing lesion’ is detected on the palate in this type of Glossitis.

3. Benign Migratory Glossitis

Benign Migratory Glossitis clinically represents as the migrating erythematous patches of depapillation surrounded by the white border on the dorsum of the tongue.

The clinical presentation appears as the geographic map, and hence it is also termed as Geographic Tongue. Burning sensation is present in this condition. This condition is benign, and it does not require the treatment. (2)

4. Strawberry Tongue

Another name of this is ‘Raspberry Tongue.’ Hyperplastic enlargement of papillae gives the appearance of strawberry. It is the clinical manifestation of some systemic conditions such as scarlet fever, toxic shock syndrome, vitamin deficiency.


Cause of the condition decides the treatment of glossitis. Though some conservative measures are must be taken into consideration. The treatment modality is divided in-home therapy and conventional treatment.

Home remedies

Home care of glossitis helps to improvise the condition to a great extent. Home therapy for glossitis includes –

  • Maintenance of oral hygiene with proper brushing and flossing. Brushing twice a day and flossing once in a day is advised.
  • Avoiding irritants such as spicy food, alcohol, cigarette, acid fruits such as apple, oranges, tomato, grapes, lemon.
  • Avoid processed food items.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Drink 1-2 glasses of coconut water daily.
  • Include water-based fruits and vegetables in your diet such as watermelon, cucumber.
  • Use glycerine mouthwash for 2-3times a day.
  • Rinse your mouth with aloe vera juice for 2-3times a day.

Glossitis mostly improves with home remedies. But for a different cause, the glossitis does not subside, and there emerges the need to visit the dentist.

Conventional treatment

In case the glossitis is caused due to infection antibiotic, antiviral or antifungal, drugs are prescribed by dentist depending upon the type of infection.

Dietary supplements including vitamins, iron supplements prescribed in case of Glossitis induced due to nutritional deficiency.

Vitamin capsule supplemented with deficient hematinic capsule prescribed in atrophic glossitis. Diet improvement sums out to be a useful measure of treatment. (3)

Benign migratory glossitis does not require any treatment as the lesion is benign. This condition although managed by topical application of 0.1% tacrolimus. (4)


Due to inflammation, tongue size increases leading to complication such as difficulty in chewing, speaking, swallowing or respiration.

Excessive inflammatory enlargement of the tongue leads to airway obstruction. Airway obstruction is a call for emergency and needs immediate medical attention.

Are you at risk?

Some of the risk factors known in the development of glossitis are if you –

  • Do not practice good oral hygiene.
  • Are too frequently consuming spicy food, alcohol or cigarette, then keep in mind that any mechanical trauma to tongue increases your chances to twice for development of glossitis.
  • Are fond of piercing then tongue piercing doubles the chances.
  • Have a compromised immune system. In this case, you are prone to any of the infection causing Glossitis.
  • Wear braces or denture that continuously irritates your tongue then is the point of concern. Visit the dentist for the correction of same is advisable.
  • Are suffering from nutritional deficiencies. Deficiency of vitamin B, iron, folic acid increases the risk of developing Glossitis.

Wrapping up

Glossitis is an inflammatory condition of the tongue caused primarily due to nutritional deficiency, trauma or irritation of tongue. Glossitis responds well to the treatment and is improvised with proper care over time.


Accurate treatment focusing on cause accompanied by good oral hygiene practice, healthy diet, avoidance of irritants (includes alcohol, spicy food, cigarette) helps in the proper management of the condition.

If untreated, the condition may worsen and leads to difficulty in breathing. Airway obstruction is life threating alert hence the earlier management is a must.

It is easier to take measures at an early stage to cure the condition so do not neglect the oral illness.


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