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Rare Tongue Condition: Understanding Glossitis and Its Effects

Medically reviewed by Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc · Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Jun 23, 2021

Rare Tongue Condition: Understanding Glossitis and Its Effects

Glossitis refers to the inflammation of the tongue. Its symptoms include changes in color, texture, and appearance of the tongue, associated with pain leading to the destruction of taste buds. This results in difficulty eating, swallowing, tasting, and other activities involving the use of the mouth and tongue. But is glossitis a rare tongue condition? 

What Causes Glossitis? 

Numerous causes may lead to glossitis, including the following:

Anemia. People with either iron deficiency or pernicious anemia are most likely to acquire glossitis. The lack of blood supply affects the muscles of the tongue, causing pain and swelling.

Vitamin B deficiencies. Glossitis is one of the symptoms of vitamin B deficiencies. According to research, 25% of patients with vitamin B deficiency experience changes and inflammation on the tongue’s surface.

Medications. Some medications can also cause glossitis, such as ACE inhibitors, albuterol, antimicrobial drugs, oral contraceptive pills, and lithium carbonate.

Poor hydration. Lack of water intake can also cause glossitis.

Irritants. The development of glossitis is commonly caused by irritants, such as allergies, habits, and even trauma. These include tongue-biting, alcohol intake, tobacco, dentures, braces, and allergies from food, oral hygiene products, and medications.

Autoimmune conditions. Infection due to bacteria, yeast, and viruses also triggers glossitis.  

Prevention of Glossitis

There is no specific way to prevent the attack and development of glossitis because vitamin deficiencies are regularly found in different regions worldwide. However, research stated that the best way to resolve glossitis, one of the rare tongue conditions, is through removing the irritants that cause inflammation and swelling of the tongue.

How is Glossitis Diagnosed?

Patients with glossitis are evaluated through the following examinations:

  • History. The evaluation of patients with glossitis includes asking about previous exposure to environmental factors like food intake that irritates the tongue, and habits, such as usage of alcohol, tobacco, and diet plans.
  • Physical examination. It is the most essential part of evaluating patients with potential glossitis. The doctor will focus on the overall dental health of the patient: the appearance of the tongue surface, the teeth, and the floor of the entire mouth.

Medical history and physical examination are the most important in evaluating signs of glossitis. However, further studies may be required to determine and clarify the primary cause of the condition.

  • Biopsy. This test aims to find potential hiding symptoms of other diseases. It is also a necessary test for patients with suspected asymptomatic glossitis to avoid further complications.
  • Laboratory studies. After checking the medical history and physical examination, laboratory studies are also necessary. The tests that are needed to be done include hemoglobin test, blood count, HIV test, and thyroid function tests. However, the tests needed differ from the suspected cause of glossitis.
  • Imaging. If the biopsy shows a result of the suspected disease, studying the disease will be through the neck with IV contrast.

Differential Diagnosis

The diagnosis of this rare tongue condition has a wide range. However, it can be narrowed down to its type according to the results from the physical examination.

  • The normal-appearing tongue may have a burning mouth syndrome, diabetic neuropathy, acid reflux, and post-herpetic glossitis.
  • A patient with atrophic glossitis may also be diagnosed with protein-calorie malnutrition, vitamin B12 deficiency, and candidiasis.
  • The strawberry tongue may be associated with yellow fever, Kawasaki disease, and toxic shock syndrome.
  • Then, median rhomboid glossitis is possible to be diagnosed with hemangioma, geographic tongue, and candidiasis.
  • Geographic tongue is possibly caused by and is diagnosed with dehydration, smoking, connective tissue disease, and leukoplakia.


Most causes of glossitis require no treatment and can be managed through personal care. However, there are specific treatments and managements that can be done for various type of glossitis:

  • Atrophic Glossitis. If glossitis is diagnosed as atrophic, it is treated by intramuscular injection of vitamin B12.
  • Median Rhomboid Glossitis. Oral antifungal medication for median rhomboid glossitis is only applicable if it is symptomatic. The antifungal medication for this is done through gargle and swallow, or spit depending on the directed way.
  • Benign Migratory Glossitis. This type of glossitis can be treated through mouth rinsing.
  • Geometric Glossitis. Acute episodes of geometric glossitis can be treated with antivirals. However, the success of the treatment is limited.
  • Strawberry Tongue. The specific medication for this condition is taking vitamin B12 supplements.

Management of Thie Rare Tongue Condition

Treatments for glossitis vary depending on its types. Aside from treatments, home remedies are also available.

It includes rinsing of the mouth regularly using typical mouthwash containing various ingredients such as antacids, anesthetics, antihistamines, antimicrobials, and corticosteroids. However, these ingredients should be prescribed by doctors.

Key Takeaways

Glossitis is a broad term for rare tongue conditions It has different types that vary in treatments that are simple and manageable. These treatments include supplements, mouthwash, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Aside from these, proper oral hygiene is the most important to reduce the potential complications correlated with glossitis. Early symptoms of glossitis are important to take care of immediately, as potential complications include difficulty in breathing and speech problems.

Learn more about Gum Disease here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc

Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Jun 23, 2021

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