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Tongue disease

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Tongue disease

Tongue disease
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 K14, Q38.1-Q38.3
ICD-9-CM 529, 750.0-750.1
MeSH D014060

Tongue diseases can be congenital or acquired, and are multiple in number. Considered according to a surgical sieve, some example conditions which can involve the tongue are discussed below. Glossitis is a general term for tongue inflammation, which can have various etiologies, e.g. infection.



Examples of congenital disorders which affect the tongue include:



  • Caviar tongue - the veins underneath the tongue can become dilated and prominent, giving the undersurface of the tongue a caviar like appearance.
  • Hemangioma


Median rhomboid glossitis


  • The tongue may traumatized by mechanical, thermal, electrical or chemical means. A common scenario is where the tongue is bitten accidentally whilst a local anesthetic inferior alveolar nerve block is wearing off. The tongue may develop scalloping on the lateral margins, sometimes termed crenated tongue. This appearance is the result of indentations of the teeth where the tongue is habitually pressed against the teeth ("tongue thrusting", and example of oral parafunction). A lesion similar to morsicatio buccarum can occur on the tongue (sometimes called morsicatio linguarum), caused by chronic chewing on the tongue. The ventral surface (under surface) of the tongue may also be traumatized during oral sexual activity such as cunnilingus ("cunnilingus tongue").[6]





Oral cancer on the side of the tongue


  • Motor neuron disease (Lou Gehrig's disease) can cause impaired control of tongue movement, affecting speech and swallowing.


  • Poor diet can cause malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. Deficiency of iron, B vitamins and folic acid are common causes for atrophic glossitis.
  • Black hairy tongue - some factors thought to cause black hairy tongue are environmental, such as eating a soft diet, poor oral hygiene, smoking and antibiotic use.


Geographic tongue (benign migratory glossitis)
  • Geographic tongue (benign migratory glossitis) - a common disorder which occasionally causes a burning sensation but is usually painless. Irregular patches of depapillation form on the tongue giving the appearance of a map. The cause is unknown.
  • Leukoplakia - can affect the tongue
  • Tongue coating - food debris, desquamated epithelial cells and bacteria often form a visible tongue coating.[7] This coating has been identified as a major contributing factor in bad breath (halitosis),[7] which can be managed by brushing the tongue gently with a toothbrush or using special oral hygiene instruments such as tongue scrapers or mouth brushes.[8]
  • Burning mouth syndrome - this chronic pain disorder commonly involves the tongue. In reflection of this, some of the synonyms for the condition include tongue-specific terms such as "glossodynia" or "burning tongue syndrome". Burning mouth syndrome is characterized by chronic burning sensation on the tongue and other oral mucous membranes in the absences of any identifiable signs or causes.



Tongue lesions are very common. For example, in the United States one estimated point prevalence was 15.5% in adults.[10] Tongue lesions are more common in persons who wear dentures and tobacco users.[10] The most common tongue conditions are geographic tongue, followed by fissured tongue and hairy tongue.[10]

History, society and culture

Hippocrates, Galen and others considered the tongue to be a "barometer" of health, and emphasized the diagnostic and prognostic importance of the tongue.[11] Assessment of the tongue has historically been an important part of a medical examination.[12] The shape and color of the tongue is examined and observed diagnostically in traditional Chinese medicine. For example, scalloping of the tongue is said to indicate qi vacuity.[13] Some modern medical sources still describe the tongue as "the mirror of physical health".[14] This is related to the high rate of turnover of the oral mucosa compared to the skin, which means that systemic conditions may manifest sooner in the mouth than the skin. Physical appearances such as cyanosis are also often more readily apparent in the mouth.


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