What does it mean to have raised bumps on your tongue? Is it normal to have red, white or black bumps on back of your tongue? The tongue is an important organ in our mouth, which help us to eat and taste foods. It is made up of three parts: a base, a body, and a tip. A healthy tongue appears to be pink and slightly red and covered with small bumps or nodules.
These small bumps on the surface, sides or at the back of the tongue are called fungiform papillae. They are natural and beneficial, as they can give the tongue a rough texture to help you eat. Also, there are a lot of taste buds and temperature sensors that can help you taste food.
Usually, you will not notice the presence of those papillae, as they are of the same color as your tongue. If they get infected, swollen or inflamed for some reasons, the bumps will become big and change color. For example, viral infections, trauma or canker sores can lead to red or white bumps on the back of your tongue.
Although, in most cases these bumps are not serious, but they will make your feel pain and uncomfortable. Moreover, they could affect your eating, chewing, sense of taste, or even speaking. In addition, these bumps may indicate more serious health condition such as oral cancer. Oral cancer is usually painless, reddish or whitish and prone to bleeding.
If the bumps are growing, spreading or persistent for a long time. Or they cause a severe pain, difficulty in eating or even bleeding. You should see your doctor as soon as possible. Before taking any treatment, it is important to know the cause first. In this article, we will discuss the possible causes, symptoms of bumps on the back of the tongue and how to judge the cause according to the symptoms.
What Cause White Coating or Bumps on the Tongue?
What does the white coating on the tongue mean? This appearance can be a sign of the swelling and inflammation of papillae. It is usually caused by a viral or yeast infection. For example, oral thrush can cause white bumps at the back of your tongue near the throat.
In addition, bacteria, dead cells, food residue, heavy smoking, too much alcohol and poor oral hygiene can also lead to these white bumps at the back, side or tip of the tongue. Here are common causes of white bumps on the tongue.
1. Canker Sores
Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers is a common cause of bumps on the tongue. They can appear anywhere in your mouth including on or under the tongue. These small ulcers can cause white bumps on the tongue and it hurts. These bumps usually have a white or gray center with a red outline. (1)
This condition can be very painful and makes a tingling or burning sensation when irritated or inflamed. Although not contagious, they could make your talking and eating difficult. Minor canker sores are usually small and oval shaped. They can disappear within 10 days without treatment. Major canker sores are deeper and larger, usually with defined borders. They are extremely painful and may take a longer time to heal.(2)
The exact causes of canker sores are still unknown at the moment, however, many experts believe they are related to some factors. For example, vitamin deficiency, poor diet, too much stress, smoking, hormonal changes and taking some medicines can be the reasons.
To heal the canker sores fast, you could rinse your mouth with salt water. This can help remove the inflammation and relieve pain. Try to avoid spicy, acidic and other abrasive foods to prevent further pain and inflammation. Make sure you use a soft toothbrush when brushing your teeth. If you develop unusually large canker sores, persistent sores, and high fever, visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.(3)
2. Oral Thrush
Oral thrush is also known as oral candidiasis. It is a fungal infection caused by the candida fungus，also known as yeast. This condition usually causes large bumps and white or red coating like “cottage cheese” on the back of your tongue. Avoid scraping off these coatings, otherwise, the tissue may turn red and even bleeding. You may also notice white patches or red spots on the tongue, tonsil or inner cheeks. The cracks at the corners of your mouth are also signs of Oral Thrush.
Oral thrush usually appears on your gums, tongue, tonsils, roof of the mouth, or insides of the cheeks. These fast-growing bumps might make your feel painful and affect your ability to taste. You may also feel burning sensation and something that stuck in your throat. More so, it can lead to vaginal yeast infections in women and diaper rash in infants.(4)
Although oral thrush can affect anyone, it is most commonly seen in older adults, infants and people with weakened immune systems. Other reasons that can increase the risk of oral thrush include heavy smoking, wearing dentures, taking antibiotics, taking birth control pills and taking an inhaled steroid. These factors could disturb the balance of microorganisms in your mouth thereby leading to the growth of fungus candida which causes the thrush.(5)
Some illnesses such as diabetes, dry mouth, HIV infection, Cancer can also lead to oral thrush. In addition, Hormonal changes during pregnancy or passed from babies during breastfeeding can also cause oral thrush.
To treat oral thrush, it is important to inhibit the growth of the fungus. You can take some antifungal medications to treat thrush. Usually, you need to take it for 10 to 14 days to see the effect. Avoid foods that promote Candida growth, like foods containing sugar and yeast, such as beer, refined white sugar, and bread. Eat more fermented foods and plain yogurt, which can help treat yeast infections and prevent stomatitis.(6)
Leukoplakia is a disease caused by excessive growth of oral cells. You may notice thick white patches in your mouth, lips, gums, cheeks or the wrinkled patches on the tongue. After a period of time, these patches will become thick and hard. These patches are less painful. However, they are sensitive to touch, spicy or hot food. Try to avoid irritating the tongue, as this will make leukoplakia develop.(7)
The common causes of leukoplakia include viral infection, candida infections, heavy smoking, too much alcohol, deficiency of vitamins, oral thrush, AIDS, oral lichen planus and oral cancer.(8)
Although the bumps usually do not affect your life, it may be a precursor to a serious problem such as oral cancer. You should consult your dentist for check up.
You can eat more fresh fruit and vegetables which can help improve your immune system. Try to avoid heavy smoking, too much alcohol and excessive tobacco. Pay attention to your oral hygiene and brush your teeth twice a day.(9)
4. Cold Sores
This is also known as fever blisters. Cold sores are a viral infection that may cause white or red bumps on the back of the tongue.
These small fluid-filled blisters appear on or around the lips. You may also notice red bumps grouped in patches. When these blisters break, they create crusts and result in tingling, itching, pain on your tongue.
According to the doctor from WebMD, the common cause of cold sores is herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), but HSV-2 can also cause it. The infection spread from one person to another by direct contacts, such as kissing. People with the strong immune system do not usually develop signs and symptoms.
The virus lies dormant in the nerve cells, and its occurrence may be triggered by fever or viral infection, stress and fatigue, weakened immune system, hormonal changes or exposure to wind and sunlight.
Cold sores often disappear within four weeks without scarring. But the virus will remain in your nerve cells. Antiviral drugs that can help in accelerating the healing process include Valacyclovir (Valtrex), Acyclovir (Zovirax, Xerese), Famciclovir (Famvir), and Penciclovir (Denavir).(10)
The use of witch hazel is an effective method of removing the sore bumps in your mouth. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help reduce the size of cold sores on your tongue. It also has healing properties that can help heal the wounds fast.
Mix 1 teaspoon of witch hazel and 1 drops of clove oil in a glass of warm water. Use this mixture to gargle in the morning and evening. Make sure you rinse your throat and tongue. This can also reduce the irritation in your throat caused by a canker sore.
5. A Sore Throat or Strep Throat
Sometimes, a sore throat or strep throat could be the reason for the bumps on your tongue and your throat feels congested.
In most cases, a sore throat is caused by viral like a cold. You may notice white spots or bumps in your throat. A sore throat can lead to post nasal drip, which is a condition of congestion of mucous. It is usually caused by cold or a seasonal allergy. For a sore throat, you can gargle your mouth with salt water to relieve the symptoms.(11)
Strep throat is usually caused by the infection of bacteria in the mouth. It is always more severe and last longer. If it is caused by bacteria like strep throat, you will see a red and swollen tonsil. You may also notice tiny white spots in the throat and on the tongue. If you have symptoms looking like that of strep throat, you’d better see your doctor immediately.(12)
6.Bumps on Back of Tongue Due to STD
STD such as Syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV can also cause white and painless bumps on the tongue. This condition is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as a sore throat, rashes on genitals and swollen lymph nodes. You may also notice them on lips, vagina, and vulva.(13)
STD such as Syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV can also cause white and painless bumps on the tongue. This condition is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as a sore throat, rashes on genitals and swollen lymph nodes. You may also notice them on lips, vagina, and vulva.(13)
Syphilis is a common cause of white bumps on the tongue. It begins as a painless sore around the genital area, mouth or rectum. This condition is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. It may also spread by mucous membrane or skin contact with the sores. After direct contact, the syphilis bacteria lie dormant for years before becoming active.(14)
Syphilis occurs in stages which may overlap. Signs and symptoms may also occur in different orders.
- Primary syphilis – Some painless small sores develop at the exact spot where the syphilis bacteria entered the body. These usually appear after three weeks of exposure.
- Secondary syphilis – Some rashes may start on the trunk and gradually cover other areas of the body, including soles of the feet and palms of your hands. At this stage, sores may appear in the genital area or mouth. You may also experience muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and hair loss. These symptoms may disappear after a few weeks but may come back again.
- Latent syphilis – Without any treatment, the disease will move to the latent syphilis stage. During this phase, no symptoms will develop, and the condition may progress to the tertiary phase.
- Tertiary syphilis – Individuals who do not get proper treatment may experience tertiary syphilis (late stage). During this phase, the disease may affect your nerves, brain, blood vessels, heart, joints, liver, and bones.
- Congenital syphilis – Infected infants acquire the condition during birth or through the placenta. Rashes may appear on the soles of feet and palms of hands. Later signs and symptoms may include saddle nose, deafness, and teeth deformities.
Without prompt treatment, syphilis can damage the brain, heart, and other vital organs. It can also be passed to an unborn baby. If you experience any of the signs and symptoms of syphilis, see a doctor immediately for diagnosis and right treatment. Penicillin and antibiotic medication can kill the harmful organisms that cause the condition. Your doctor may also prescribe another antibiotic if you develop an allergic reaction to penicillin.
HIV or AIDS
HIV can also cause white bumps at the back of the tongue in the mouth. This condition is also a sexually transmitted disease. Other common symptoms of HIV include a dry cough, sore throat, fatigue, pneumonia and rapid weight loss.
Oral herpes is a common viral infection. It is usually caused by a herpes simplex. Oral herpes can also lead to painful white ulcers and bump at the back of tongue near the throat. This condition usually lasts for 1-2 weeks and accompanied by fever.(15)
What Cause Red Bumps on the Back of Tongue?
What do red bumps on the back of tongue mean? The appearance of red patches on your tongue can be a sign of an infection. This will cause the natural bumps to become redder and larger than normal. You may also notice painful red blister filled with fluid when you injure or bite your tongue inadvertently. These conditions can cause reddish or whitish bumps on the back or site of your tongue.
The common causes of red bumps on the tongue include Scarlet Fever, Kawasaki Syndrome, Geographic Tongue and Vitamin Deficiencies etc. In addition, a common cold, sinus infections, allergies, sores, trauma or eating irritating food can also irritate the taste buds in your tongue and lead to the red bumps on your tongue.
1. Scarlet Fever
If you suffer from red bumps on the back of your tongue, scarlet fever may be the cause. Its appearance looks like a strawberry, so it is also known as a strawberry tongue. This condition is usually caused by a group A Streptococcus bacterial infection. Scarlet fever often occurs in children between 5 to 15 years old, as their immunity is weaker at this stage.(16)
The initial symptoms of scarlet fever are usually a rash on the chest or abdomen. Then they may spread throughout your entire body. You may also suffer from a fever, sore throat or enlarged lymph nodes.
If left untreated, this condition will lead to severe health problems that affect the kidneys, heart, and other vital organs of the body. See a doctor if your sore throat is severe and accompanied by a fever of 38.9 C (102 F) or higher. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of this infection.
Kawasaki syndrome is an autoimmune disease that is common in children below the age of five years. This disease can affect the blood vessels in the body and cause red and enlarged bumps in the back of the mouth.(17)
Common symptoms include high fever, cracked lips, swelling of the palms, swollen lymph nodes and redness in the feet. This is a serious disease. If left untreated, it will endanger life. You should visit your doctor immediately.
Geographic tongue is an inflammation of the tongue. This condition could cause the red spots on the surface of the tongue to look like a map. And the lesions usually move from one place to another part of your tongue. So it is also called benign migratory glossitis.
This condition usually causes a red, smooth and irregularly shaped lesions on your tongue. You may also notice tiny and pinkish-white bumps with a white border around them. These patches may also move over time.(18)
For some people, the geographic tongue does not show any symptom. For others, it will make them feel discomfort, pain or burning sensation when they eat spicy or acidic foods. This problem may disappear by itself but it may appear again later.
The exact cause of Geographic tongue is still unknown. But many researches show that it is related to psoriasis and lichen planus. Though this condition is usually harmless, it may indicate other serious diseases of the tongue. You’d better see your doctor or dentist as soon as possible.
4. Squamous Cell Papilloma
Squamous cell papilloma could be the cause of small, red or pink bumps on the back of the tongue. It is the result of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This infection occurs when the virus penetrates the body through a small tear in the skin, abrasion or a cut. The virus is transferred commonly by direct skin contact. There is no cure for HPV, but its symptoms can be alleviated.(19)
The noncancerous growths usually occur on the tongue but can also develop on the inside of the cheeks and your lips. The bumps are usually pink or red, but when they grow bigger, the bumps become whitish and look similar to cauliflower. In rare cases, papillomas in the throat area multiply and may interfere with breathing.
See your doctor if you experience serious symptoms. The tongue bumps caused by HPV infection can be left alone unless they start to spread or cause discomfort.
5. Vitamin Deficiencies
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins needed by the body. It plays an important role in the production of red blood cell. Vitamin B12 deficiency could cause anemia, which can cause reddish sore on side of tongue. You may notice blood spots under your tongue. In addition, deficiencies of folic acid and iron can also lead to red bumps on your tongue. This is common in the elderly.(20)
You can find the Vitamin B12 in a lot of animal foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, meats and some plant-based milk.
6.Bumpy Tongue Due to Allergy
Sometimes bumps on the back of tongue may be a result of allergic reaction. Some allergen such as certain medication, drugs or foods can cause raised and uncomfortable red bumps on your tongue.(21)
These bumps may appear within a few minutes after your tongue gets in contact with the irritant. You may see the large bumps in your throat and have swelling on your face. People suffering from oral hypersensitivity syndrome are prone to this condition.
To get rid of the bumpy tongue from allergy, you should try to find out what led to the allergic reaction. Then avoid this medication or foods next time. Taking vitamin C can help improve your immunity and reduce allergic reactions. If you have a serious allergic reaction, you need to go to see your doctor immediately.
What Cause a Black Hairy or Coated Tongue?
What does a black bump on the tongue mean? Although looks scary, a black hairy tongue is not serious. It is a harmless condition and it usually happens in people with bad dental hygiene. This condition is often accompanied by bad breath.
A black hairy tongue usually caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. For some people, the papillae may grow excessively long and lead to it to grow bacteria more easily. This will lead to dark spots on the tongue.
Excessive smoking can also irritate the tongue and cause black hairy or coated tongue. It might cause many other oral conditions such as a sore throat and tongue cancer. When the tobacco pigment or bacteria accumulate on the tongue, it usually develops a black hairy tongue.(22)
In addition, people with diabetes or people who use antibiotics are prone to have a black tongue. In most cases, you can get rid of the black hairy tongue by brushing with diluted hydrogen peroxide.
What Causes a Sore or Bumpy Tongue?
Sometimes, raised bumps on the tongue can make your tongue to become sore or painful. There are many common reasons, including:
Trauma is a common cause of painful bumps on the tongue. For example, when you accidentally bite your tongue, burning, brushing the teeth too hard etc can cause bumps and soreness to appear.
Fortunately, these bumps are temporary and can be disappear on their own. You can also rinse the bumps with a saltwater or an antiseptic mouthwash to speed up the healing process. This can also help prevent oral infection.
2. Enlarged Papillae on Back of Tongue
Things like food allergies or hormonal imbalances can lead to enlarged papillae on the tongue. It is common for children below 5 years. You may also notice fever and swollen glands. This condition is not a serious problem, as it will disappear on its own within 5-7 days.(23)
3. Swollen Tonsils
Bacterial or viral infection can cause acute inflammation of the tonsils. This will lead to swollen tonsils and bumps on the tongue and you feel like something is stucked in your throat. The most common cause of this infection is strep throat.(24)
You can drink plenty of water, keep a good sleep, consume vitamins C, take more fruits and vegetables to get rid of these swollen tonsils.
Oral cancer is a growth of cells or sores in the mouth that does not go away. It can develop in any part of the mouth, such as tongue, inner cheeks, lips, the roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, and gums.
Oral cancer occurs when cells in the mouth or on the lips develop DNA changes. The mutations let cancer cells grow continuously while damaging surrounding tissues. The accumulation of cancer cells creates a tumor. Without prompt treatment, it may spread to other areas of the mouth, neck, head, and parts of your body.(25)
Other symptoms of oral cancer may include:
- Bleeding sore
- A sore that does not heal
- A lump, growth or thickening of the lining of the mouth or skin
- Tongue pain
- Jaw stiffness or pain
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- A sore throat
- Loose teeth
- Poorly fitting dentures
If you have persistent symptoms that last more than two weeks, this may be an early sign of oral cancer. You should see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
5. Lie Bumps (Transient Lingual Papillitis)
Lie bumps is a common cause of white or red bumps on the tongue. According to a survey, nearly 50% of people will experience lie bumps in their lifetime, especially in childhood. These bumps usually cause a cluster of bumps on the tongue.(26)
When the papillae is irritated, it will become slightly swollen and lead to lie bumps. Usually, they can be painful and uncomfortable. Sometimes even if you do not drink or eat, they will make you feel pain.
Fortunately, lie bumps are not serious. It usually doesn’t require any treatment and disappears within two weeks, but it may recur later. If they do not clear up after three weeks, you should see your doctor.
Transient lingual papillitis can be caused by high-stress levels, hormones, trauma, viral infection, overeating spicy foods and sugary foods. Other possible causes are food allergies and gastrointestinal complications. Lie bumps are usually accompanied by fever and swollen glands and are likely contagious.
Some people wonder whether they can pop the lie bumps. This is not recommended as the tongue is very vascular. Poping might cause bleeding profusely. In most cases, over-the-counter treatments and home remedies can reduce the symptoms and speed up the process of recovering.
You can gargle and rinse with salt water, brush your teeth at least two times a day or take some OTC topical treatments, such as Zilactin. Try to avoid irritating foods and see your doctor if the symptoms of lie bumps do not go away after a week. If lie bumps accompanied by other symptoms like fever and swollen glands, this condition may be eruptive lingual papillitis.
Glossitis may cause small bumps on the tongue. It could cause inflammation, swelling, and redness of the tongue. Severe inflammation may result in difficulty in eating and speaking.(27)
The common causes of glossitis include allergic reactions to food, medications or other irritants, iron deficiency, certain diseases like herpes simplex virus infection, and mouth trauma.
Other symptoms of glossitis include:
- Swelling of the tongue
- Tenderness or pain in the tongue
- Tongue discoloration
- Difficulty in eating, speaking or swallowing
- Loss of papillae on the tongue
Brushing your teeth and flossing several times a day can improve the health of gums, teeth, and tongue. In addition, you can also take some antibiotics to get rid of glossitis.
7. Burning Tongue Syndrome
This syndrome usually happens in some postmenopausal women. The main symptoms are severe burning or scalded feeling in the tongue. In addition, it may also affect your gums, palate, lips, throat, inside of cheeks or whole mouth.(28)
The burning sensation can also lead to dry mouth, a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth or even loss of taste.
Other Causes For Bumps on Tongue
The common causes of bumps on the tongue are listed above, but there are a few other causes, which include:
We all have lingual tonsils, round lymphatic tissue, taste buds and a lot of papillae at the back of the tongue, that will look like bumps. And some people simply have larger taste buds than others, meaning they have larger bumps on their tongues. Sometimes the taste buds may become large when you eat spicy foods. These bumps are all natural bumps you don’t need to worry about. The natural bumps are usually pink and reddish on the surface or on the tongue.
Warts are a common infection and can occur anywhere in the mouth including on the tongue. The most common cause is placing an infected finger in your mouth. In addition, performing oral sex with someone who has genital warts can lead to warts in the mouth.(29)
Warts in the mouth usually have raised bumps that look smooth, spiked or wrinkled. They will appear as a single growth or in clusters. Warts have a slightly different color compared to nearby tissues, you can distinguish them easily.
3.Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)
Sometimes, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux can also cause bumps on the tongue. When you suffer from acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux, the acid in the stomach may back up into your esophagus or your mouth. This will burn the papillae and cause white, red or yellow patch on the top or back of the tongue.(30)
You can reduce the symptoms of Acid Reflux by changing your lifestyle and taking some over-the-counter medications. Some antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids or Mylanta can help neutralize the acid in your stomach. Make sure not to overuse them, otherwise, they may cause diarrhea or constipation. You can take some antacids that contain both magnesium hydroxide or aluminum hydroxide to help counteract these side effects.
4. Bumps on Back of the Tongue during Pregnancy
Hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can easily lead to bumps on the tongue. This can also be caused by oral cancer, allergic reaction, stress, oral cancer, enlarged papillae or yeast infection.
You should consult your doctor to have an examination. If left untreated, it may affect the health of the fetus and leads to miscarriage in severe cases.
5. Bumps on Back of the Tongue in Babies
Bumps on the tongues of babies can be caused by canker sores, inflammed papillae, and Kawasaki syndrome. Kawasaki diseases are the most common reason for bumps on the tongues of children, especially under 5 years old.
This condition can make it difficult for babies during feeding, especially in swallowing. You should see your pediatrician to have your child diagnosed. .
Home Remedies for Bumps on the Tongue
Treatment of bumps on the tongue depends on the exact causes. However, there are some home remedies you can try to speed up the healing process. Maintaining a healthy living is the most effective way to prevent the bumps to appear. Keep in mind that if the bumps are serious, you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Use dental floss to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Gargle with a warm salty water for 3 to 4 times daily. Saline solution has antibacterial properties that can help reduce the inflammation and remove tongue bumps. Brush your teeth with toothpaste in the morning and evening.
- Drink liquids that are cold or cool. This can help reduce inflammation and soothe the tongue bumps naturally. Drinking at least 8 cups of water a day can help keep yourself hydrated.
- Cold compress. Put ice chips or ice cubes on the surface of your swollen bumps. This can help reduce the inflammation, swelling, and pain.
- Eat foods that are cold and soothing. The soothing foods like yogurt, ice cream, and milk can help relieve your discomfort and pain in the mouth.
- Avoid food that increases discomfort. Some foods or products such as coffee, tobacco, and spicy or acidic foods may make your swelling tongue bumps worse. If your bumps are a result of a food allergy, you should try to avoid these allergen foods.
- Reduce smoking, use mouthwash to clean the bacteria and toxins immediately after smoking.
- For canker sores, you can rub the antihistamine ointment onto the bumps to soothe the sores. To treat bacterial or yeast infection, you can take antibiotics or viral drugs. For oral thrush, you can take antifungal medications to get rid of the bumps. Make sure to consult your doctor first and then follow the doctor’s prescriptions.
- The mint leaves have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and chewing mint leaves can relieve pain and prevent infection.
- Use tea tree, eucalyptus, and peppermint essential oils to remove your thrush, they have anti-fungal and antiviral properties.
- Go to the dentist’s office to do a Candida cleaning. This can help remove excess candida and avoid oral thrush.
- Go to a hospital or dental office for a full check to identify any potential health problems.
When to See Your Doctor
In most cases, the bumps on the back of the tongue are not serious. You can remove these problems using some natural remedies. But, sometimes you should visit your doctor to get your tongue examined immediately.
- The bumps caused by infections or injury become inflamed and very large.
- The red bumps or canker sores last for more than 1 week.
- The bumps on the tongue make it difficult for you to eat or drink.
- The sores on your tongue don’t heal after several days.
- Severe allergic reactions lead to swelling of the tongue.
- Severe pain in the back of your tongue accompanied by fever, headache and other symptoms.
- Have tried many home remedies and the problems aren’t resolved.