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Dental and Oral Health (Adults)

I Have a Problem with My Tongue That is Scary



I only noticed it a couple of days ago. The sides of my tongue tend to hurt a little. Also, the back of my tongue is covered in white and dark reddish areas. Now, I don`t know if the red areas are just the pink of my tongue, and the white is what I should be worried about, or what may be going on. What might be causing my tongue to be like this, and is it serious? because I`ve been getting a small cough too.


There are a number of possible causes of the lateral aspect of your tongue hurting; the majority tend to be related to extraneous movements and/or biting or sucking the tongue.

The white coating could be the result of not brushing your tongue, or mouth breathing and/or OTC medications (some medications like anti-decongestants or anti-allergy medications will cause a decreased saliva flow and the result is a dry coated tongue). Based upon the fact that you are also complaining of a "cough", my impression is that you may be pre-treating the symptoms of a head cold. The posterior aspect of the tongue is populated by 7-12 large dome shaped projections known as the vallate papilla, and these structures tend to be red (especially if the tongue is white) and are normal anatomic structures of the posterior dorsum of the tongue.

Now, if you are running a temperature, or if the lateral borders of the tongue are so painful that you can't stand it, then you need to have this problem evaluated by either your primary care physician or dentist.

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Response by:

Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University