Glossitis – Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Glossitis?

Picture 1 – Glossitis
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Glossitis definition as according to medical terminology can be laid as a condition characterized by the inflammation of the tongue triggered by an infection that causes the tongue to swell and assume a different colour. Glossitis causes the tongue to smoothen by removing the papillae, which are finger-like projections that appear on the surface of the tongue. It is alternatively known as Glossodynia, Smooth tongue, and Burning tongue syndrome.

Types of Glossitis

Besides the definition of glossitis, medical science also provides the clue to the different types of this tongue inflammation. The two major types are acute glossitis and chronic glossitis depending on the nature and severity of the condition within which fall the other kinds of glossitis.

Idiopathic Glossitis

The cause of this kind of glossitis is unknown and it is characterized by the inflammation of the mucous membrane and the overall muscle of the tongue.

Atrophic Glossitis

It derives its name from the fact that the tongue gets washed away of its original colour to assume a beefy red colour and is automatically smoothened. One may experience pain and a burning sensation in the tongue which may disseminate to other oral parts. Such a burning sensation may actually be triggered by the appearance of oral ulcers. Atrophic Glossitis is also known as Hunter’s Glossitis.

Herpetic Geometric Glossitis

In this case, a fissure may form on the tongue dorsum which may be branched or crossed in nature and may be a great cause for pain and discomfort.

Benign Migratory Glossitis

This kind of glossitis is characterized by an erythemous region which is aided by an atrophy of the tongue papillae. The erythemous region is usually surrounded by a white, serpiginous and hyperkeratotic border. Lesions are one of the most noticeable symptoms of this kind of glossitis. The lesions are usually pinkish-red in colour and the patient suffering from the same report of spontaneous resolution of the lesion area. However, the activity of the lesions do wax and wane over time. This kind of glossitis may also be known by other names such as glossitis areata exfoliativa, erythema migrans, pityriasis linguae, fulliform papillary glossitis and glossitis migrans. It is commonly known as geographic tongue benign migratory glossitis.

Median Rhomboid Glossitis

median glossitis
Picture 2 – Median Rhomboid Glossitis
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In this case, one may similarly notice the appearance and development of lesions of rhomboid reddish, shiny and smooth nature. It is congenital and non-inflammatory in nature. These lesions occur on the dorsal surface of the tongue and are also accompanied by opalescent spots on the tongue. It is actually a combination of a yeast infection and anomalous foetal development.

Glossitis Symptoms

The symptoms of glossitis are more or less similar for all kinds of glossitis except for the fact that median rhomboid glossitis symptoms may vary owing to the nature of the condition which is not characterized by inflammation of the tongue in all other cases.

The symptoms that are generally applicable to all kinds of glossitis include swelling or an inflammation of the tongue, the smoothening of the surface of the tongue, and the change in the colour of the tongue. In case of pernicious glossitis anemia, the tongue becomes pale but in other cases, the tongue assumes a beefy red colour, which may turn dark or fiery red in case of vitamin B12 deficiency. In almost all the cases, the tongue becomes tender and sore, which is triggered by an infection or an ulcerous growth. White patches may also be noticed along with development of fissures on the surface of the tongue. All these symptoms individually or combined cause a great degree of difficulty in speaking, chewing or even swallowing food. It may also lead to airway blockage in severe cases.

Glossitis Causes

One may enumerate the causes of glossitis under the following heads:-


Tongue or oral infections caused by bacterial agents or yeast may cause glossitis. Oral herpes simplex, poor hydration and low saliva count may also be cited as a reason for the same. Viral agents cause viral glossitis.


Addictive substances such as alcohol, spices, hot food items, and tobacco may cause or even perpetuate glossitis. Irritation may also arise due to injury, burns, rough teeth edges, dental problems or tools, or other kinds of trauma that may be classified as mechanically born.

Allergic Reaction

Allergic reaction caused due to the chemical reaction of mouthwash, breath fresheners, toothpastes, plastic in dentures, dyes in candy, and certain medications such as ACE inhibitors for controlling fluctuating blood pressure, may cause glossitis to a great extent.


Tongue piercings may look cool and sexy but may cause great harm to the tongue, mostly giving rise to tongue infections and wounds.

Nutritional Deficiency

Deficiency of vitamin B12 and E, iron, riboflavin, folate, and niacin may cause glossitis. Glossitis arising out of lack of vitamin in the body is known as glossitis vitamin deficiency.


Other associated disorders such as pernicious anaemia, erythema multiform, pemphigus vulgaris, oral lichen planus, aphthous ulcers, Plummer-Vinson syndrome, dysphagia, psoriasis may also lead to glossitis. One who suffers from Syphilis usually suffers from syphilitic glossitis. And one suffering from glossitis due to lack of sufficient amount of blood in the body is said to suffer from glossitis anaemia.

Glossitis may also be inherited from parents who suffer from acute form of the disorder.

Glossitis Differential Diagnosis

Usually a swollen tongue, fissures on its surface or the absence of papillae may imply a case of glossitis but a proper diagnosis of the cause can be done with the help of a blood test in order to detect the underlying cause of the problem which may not be visible on the surface.

Glossitis Treatment

The treatment of glossitis is usually directed towards ways and means to reduce the inflammation of the tongue. The first step for either preventing or treating would require proper maintenance of one’s oral hygiene which includes regular and thorough brushing of the teeth and flossing.

Glossitis caused due to an infection may be dealt with antifungal and antibacterial medications and other antibiotics.

Glossitis anaemia and the one caused due to deficiency of nutrients may be treated by preparing a diet chart and that is rich in the deficient nutrients and sincerely following the same.

Irritants need to be avoided for getting relief from the pain and discomfort that one has to suffer from in case of glossitis.

In other cases such as for benign migratory glossitis treatment, atrophic glossitis treatment, and median rhomboid glossitis treatment, corticosteroids like prednisone is prescribed for the purpose of reducing the inflammation. The burning sensation is usually controlled with topical anaesthetics. It can also be prevented by drinking lots of water so as to produce sufficient amounts of saliva which shall prevent the growth of bacteria in the mouth.

Glossitis Pictures

For the purpose of understanding the effects and severity of the condition, one may have a look at some of the pictures of glossitis, which shall aid one’s knowledge of the same.

atrophic glossitis
Picture 3 – Atrophic Glossitis
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If one follows the preventive measures sincerely, one would not have to bear the brunt of such a condition causing great discomfort to oral health of a person. Severe conditions may even render a person helpless as he/she may find it extremely difficult to even communicate. So, as soon as one exhibits such symptoms, one must immediately get diagnosed and treated under the supervision of an experienced health professional.



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