Tongue inflammation, which is sometimes referred to as glossitis, is a condition in which the tongue becomes swollen, smooth, sore or discolored. This condition can be caused by a number of factors such as bacterial infections, allergic reactions or exposure to irritating substances. In some cases, an inflammation of the tongue may be a sign of an underlying issue such as anemia, certain autoimmune disorders or dietary deficiencies.
An inflamed tongue may be either a primary or secondary condition, but it also may be inherited. As a primary condition, tongue inflammation is most commonly the result of trauma. Burns from hot drinks, spicy or acidic foods or concentrated dental care products may cause the tongue to become swollen or painful to the touch. The tongue may also become inflamed or infected by poorly fitting dentures, jagged teeth or by an improperly placed piercing. In some cases, the use of chewing or smoking tobacco, alcohol or undiluted herbal tinctures may also cause trauma that results in swelling.
Allergies and deficiencies are two other potential causes of inflammation. In many people, especially in those who are hypersensitive, certain substances may cause acute inflammation. Dyes and preservatives are sometimes prone to causing an allergic reaction, as are many dental hygiene products and certain medications and treatments, such as bronchodilators and chemotherapy. Deficiencies in certain B and C vitamins as well as in minerals such as iron may also cause tongue inflammation.
Secondary conditions are also common reasons why a tongue might become inflamed. Certain skin conditions, such as lichen planus or erythema multiforme, can affect the mucous membranes and may also cause lesions to form on the tongue. Other secondary causes of tongue inflammation may consist of diseases such as syphilis, stomatitis or oral herpes. In addition, conditions that may cause dry mouth, such as Sjogren's syndrome, can potentially lead to an inflammation of the tongue.
Though uncommon, tongue inflammation may be due to hereditary or congenital conditions and may also be the result of certain types of poisoning. Acrodermatitis enteropathica, a hereditary condition that is characterized by a deficiency in zinc, may cause the tongue to become swollen, glossy and red. While median rhomboid glossitis, which is sometimes thought to be a congenital condition, is not usually painful, it may make a portion of the tongue either red or white in appearance. Exposure to poisons such as arsenic or mercury may also cause the tongue to become inflamed.