Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout


About Your Diagnosis
Glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue. It may be acute or chronic. It may be a condition in and of itself or may be a symptom of another disease. It is a common condition that affects individuals of all ages. It does seem to occur more commonly in men. There are many causes of glossitis, both local and systemic. Bacterial and viral infections can be a local cause of glossitis. Trauma or mechanical irritation from burns, teeth, and dental appliances are other local causes. Local irritants such as tobacco, alcohol, and hot or spicy foods can also cause glossitis. An allergic reaction from toothpaste, mouthwash, or other materials put in the mouth can be a local cause. Systemic glossitis can result from nutritional causes, skin diseases, and systemic infections. If an individual is malnourished or lacks iron or the B vitamins in the diet, glossitis can develop. Skin diseases such as oral lichen planus, erythema multiforme, aphthous ulcers, and pemphigus vulgaris can cause glossitis. Infections such as syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have glossitis as their first symptom. Occasionally, the cause of glossitis is inherited. An examination is the best way to detect glossitis. Occasionally if the cause is not clear or there is no improvement with treatment, a biopsy is done. In most cases, glossitis will resolve with outpatient treatment. Occasionally hospitalization will be required if the swelling is severe and blocks the airway.

Living With Your Diagnosis
The signs and symptoms of glossitis are variable because of the various causes. The basic signs are that the tongue changes color and is painful. The color changes vary from a dark “beefy” red to fiery red to pale to white. The tongue may be painful enough to cause difficulty chewing, swallowing, or talking. The fingerlike projections on the tongue surface are lost. This gives the tongue a smooth appearance. Ulcerations on the tongue occur with some cases of glossitis.

The treatment of glossitis depends on the cause. Antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. For a nutritional deficiency, supplementation with vitamins or iron is the treatment. The swelling and discomfort is treated with various over-the-counter and prescription drugs that are used locally. Mouth rinses with a half teaspoon of baking soda and 8 oz of warm water can provide relief. If the swelling is severe, corticosteriods taken by mouth may be necessary.

The DOs
• A bland or liquid diet may be needed while symptoms of glossitis are present.
• Good oral hygiene is necessary for prevention. Brush and floss teeth, and clean the tongue after each meal. See a dentist regularly.

The DON’Ts
• Avoid agents that may cause irritation or be sensitizing. This includes hot or spicy foods and alcohol.
• Stop smoking and avoid tobacco in all forms.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If you have breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing difficulties. This may mean the swollen tongue has blocked the airway. This is an emergency that needs immediate medical attention.
• If symptoms of glossitis persist for longer than 10 days.