Sore on the side of the tongue: The 5 main causes

A sore on the side of the tongue can develop for a wide variety of reasons. Often mouth sores are not a sign of a serious condition. It can be canker sores, an attack of herpes resulting from a minor injury. In some cases, severe, recurrent, or persistent canker sores may be a symptom of an underlying condition.

This article discusses the possible symptoms of canker sores on the side of the tongue. It also examines the causes, treatments, and common remedies for tongue sores, as well as when to seek medical attention.

Signs and symptoms of a sore on the side of the tongue

Lesions on the side of the tongue can look and feel different depending on their cause. They can be:

– small and red
– larger, with a white or gray center and red edges
– open and bleeding

Sores on the side of the tongue can also appear along with other symptoms, such as swelling or difficulty chewing or swallowing. Minor ailments are responsible for most mouth sores. But sores on the side of the tongue can be a sign of an underlying condition that may require medical attention.

Main causes of a sore on the side of the tongue

1 Canker sores

Canker sores, or mouth sores, are small, harmless sores that can appear on the tongue. Symptoms of canker sores are as follows:

– small canker sores that start as a red bump and then develop a white or gray center with flat red edges
– pain and soreness
– symptoms that worsen when a person eats salty, spicy or acidic foods
Canker sores tend to heal on their own in 7-10 days. They are not contagious.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes canker sores, but the following factors can trigger them:

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– minor injuries, such as tongue bites, rubbing from braces or dentures, and food burns during meals

– food intolerances or allergies

– stress or fatigue

-an iron or vitamin B12 deficiency

– certain medications, such as beta-blockers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

– stop smoking

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, and genetics can also make canker sores more likely for some people. People with chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease, can also suffer from it.

Treatment of sores on the side of the tongue

There is no permanent cure for canker sores. Often they heal on their own without medical treatment. However, there are ways to relieve the symptoms. People can get over-the-counter pain medication from a pharmacist. There are also topical canker sore products that people apply inside the mouth to numb the pain.

Frequent canker sores can indicate an underlying condition, such as a vitamin deficiency, which may require medical attention.

2 Herpes buttons

Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that form as a result of infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They usually appear around the mouth, but sometimes develop on the tongue.

Symptoms of cold sores are:

– a tingling or burning sensation before the sore appears
– painful fluid-filled blisters that rupture, leak fluid, and then form a crust
– sores that heal and then reappear, sometimes in response to stress or illness

Some people also have a fever during herpes outbreaks

Herpes takes about a week to fully heal. During this period, the pimples contagious because the liquid they contain contains the virus. This is why it is important to avoid damaging cold sores and to take steps to prevent the virus from transmitting other viruses.

Treatment for cold sores

There is no cure for cold sores, but for most people, neither the pimples nor the virus cause serious problems. During cold sore flare-ups, people can use over-the-counter pain medications to relieve pain and swelling.

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People with severe cold sores or weakened immune systems can get antiviral medications from a doctor. These medications reduce the duration of cold sores, but do not completely prevent them.

3 Oral lichen planus

Lichen planus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect the skin and the inside of the mouth. Oral lichen planus often only appears inside the mouth, most often on the inside of the cheeks and the sides of the tongue.

Symptoms of lichen planus are:

– painful ulcers
– itchy white or lacy patches
– inflamed and flaking gums
– raised red or purple areas on the body, which doctors call plaques
– yellowish-brown patches on the palms and soles

Several factors can contribute to lichen planus, including genetics, injury inside the mouth, viral infections such as hepatitis C, and emotional or physical stress. The condition may disappear within a few years, but for oral lichen planus it often takes longer.


Doctors may prescribe steroids to relieve symptoms of lichen planus. They may also recommend other medications and ointments.

Severe cases may require a combination of medications and different therapies, such as UV light therapy.

4 Erythroplakia

Erythroplakia is a condition that causes red patches inside the mouth. It can occur anywhere in the mouth, including the side of the tongue. If the spot is relatively small, a person may mistake it for a sore or ulcer.

People may not notice erythroplakia because it may be flat and painless and cause no other symptoms. However, this type of lesion is sometimes precancerous.

The most common causes of erythroplakia are:

chewing tobacco
wearing dentures that rub

Erythroplakia can also occur alongside leukoplakia, a similar condition that causes white lesions.


Treatment for this condition usually involves identifying the cause of the lesion and eliminating it. For example, a person may need to quit smoking or have their dentures readjusted. However, it is important for a person to speak with a doctor about the possibility of erythroplakia so that the doctor can perform a biopsy to test for cancer.

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5 Cancer

Cancer can cause mouth sores in several ways. People with oral cancer may have lesions or growths on the tongue that look like sores. The growth is often painless and small at first, but it can spread quickly. People with other types of cancer may also develop canker sores in response to certain types of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy.


Of all oral cancers, approximately 90% are squamous cell carcinomas. Doctors can remove them surgically. There is a good chance of curing cancer, provided doctors detect it in time.

More advanced oral cancers may require a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and medication.

Reduce pain from a sore on the side of the tongue

To reduce pain from tongue sores, try:

– avoid acidic, spicy or salty foods
– avoid hard or crunchy foods
– avoid eating too quickly or chewing gum, as this may cause accidental biting of the wound
– eat chilled food, as the cool temperature can relieve pain
– use a softer toothbrush
– the use of a straw for drinks

Recurring sores on the side of the tongue may indicate an underlying condition. In this case, a doctor or dentist can help determine the cause and put a treatment plan in place.


Johnson, J. (2013). Mouth sores and spots.

Mouth cancer. (2019).

Mouth sores and pain. (2020).

Mouth ulcers. (2020).

Oakley, A. (2015). Lichen planus.

What are oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers? (2018).

* The information and services available on pressesante.com in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. [HighProtein-Foods.com]

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