Spots On Your Tongue: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Finding spots on your tongue is frightening, but we’re here to make it less so. Read on to find the symptoms and causes of spots on the tongue, as well as treatment and prevention measures.

10 min readSpots On Your Tongue: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Spots on the tongue often cause panic, as they are often a sign of an underlying medical condition. The good news is that in most cases, these spots are harmless and caused by something as simple as dehydration or poor oral hygiene.

However, if you notice any changes to your tongue's appearance—including bumps, sores, or discolorations—it’s vital to monitor them in case they could be something more serious, as they can do much more than make your tongue feel weird. In this article, we will discuss the various causes of spots on the tongue and how to treat and prevent them from occurring.

Common Causes Of Spots On The Tongue

Many things cause the appearance of spots on your tongue. All of these causes are different and may require a different type of treatment, but none are life-threatening.

You only need to see a doctor when the spots linger for more than a week, or they become more painful, bleed, and/or spread, so they usually are not too serious. Let’s take a look at some different causes of spots on tongue, their symptoms, and how to identify them.

Black Hairy Tongue

This condition is just what it sounds like: your tongue develops a furry-looking coating of dark brown or black hairs. The black tongue is usually caused by a buildup of bacteria and dead cells on the tongue's surface, resulting in an overgrowth of fungi.

It also is caused by poor oral hygiene, smoking tobacco products, dry mouth, antibiotics, or taking certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs.

Geographic Tongue

This oddly-named condition is not caused by geography, but rather a disorder of the tongue’s papillae (small bumps) that give your tongue its rough texture.

These bumps become inflamed and form patches or spots on the surface of your tongue.

Geographic Tongue typically appears as red or pink spots with white edges and is often irregularly shaped. The symptoms usually include a burning sensation in the mouth, slight bleeding when eating sharp foods, and sensitivity to spicy food.

The exact cause of Geographic Tongue is unknown, however, it is more likely to occur in people who suffer from psoriasis, eczema, or hay fever.


Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches on the tongue. The spots may be flat or raised and vary in size from small dots to larger patches. They appear anywhere on the tongue but are most commonly found at the back near the throat. Leukoplakia is generally painless and does not cause any other symptoms.

Leukoplakia has several causes, including smoking or using tobacco products, rough areas of teeth that rub against your tongue and irritate it, yeast infections in your mouth, or repeated irritation due to ill-fitting dentures. In some cases, leukoplakia is caused by chronic illnesses, such as HIV or diabetes.

Lie Bumps

These bumps don't come from lying; rather, they're a type of inflammation caused by irritation. Lie bumps appear on the tip and sides of your tongue as small white or red dots that feel raised and rough. They may also cause a burning sensation when you eat or drink something hot or acidic. If left untreated, lie bumps last for several days to weeks.


Thrush is the most common cause of spots on tongue and is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans. Symptoms of thrush include white patches or lesions, soreness, a burning sensation, and bad breath.

Treatment involves taking antifungal medications such as nystatin, clotrimazole, or fluconazole, which is taken orally or applied directly to the affected area.

Aphthous Ulcers

These tongue ulcers are small, painful lesions on your tongue that are white or yellow. They are often referred to as “canker sores” and occur due to a variety of reasons including stress, food allergies, hormone changes, and vitamin deficiencies.

The most common symptom is pain while eating or drinking something hot or acidic. Treatment for aphthous ulcers usually includes topical medications like numbing sprays and ointments as well as over-the-counter antihistamines, or allergy medicines.

Cancer Of The Tongue

Cancer of the Tongue is a relatively rare form of cancer, however, it may be very serious and, if left untreated, may even lead to death. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, common symptoms include a sore or ulcer that doesn’t heal, unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth which don’t go away after two weeks as well as red or white patches on the tongue.

If you experience any of these symptoms, then it is important to speak to your doctor immediately so they diagnose and treat this condition accordingly.

White Patches

White patches on the tongue are caused by a variety of medical conditions, including the aforementioned oral thrush and leukoplakia. Oral thrush is an infection caused by the Candida fungus which is naturally present in the mouth, while leukoplakia is a precancerous condition characterized by white patches on the tongue or inside of the cheek.

Both conditions are treatable with antifungal medication, and in some cases may require removal. If you notice any white patches on your tongue that don’t go away after several days, it’s important to see your doctor for further evaluation.

Bright Red Tongue

This condition is usually caused by a vitamin deficiency, most commonly B-12 or iron. A bright red tongue is also caused by dehydration, fever, food allergies or sensitivities, and even certain medications. If you notice a strange redness on your tongue, it’s important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Burning Feeling

A burning feeling of the tongue is one of the most common symptoms associated with spots on tongue. While this symptom may initially be alarming, it usually is treated successfully. A burning feeling has a variety of causes, from allergies to diseases and even certain medications.

You should treat a burning tongue by avoiding irritating foods or drinks, such as spicy dishes; taking over-the-counter medications to reduce inflammation and discomfort; applying a topical anesthetic cream or lotion to numb the pain; and using an antifungal medication, if necessary.

Smooth Tongue

Your tongue is supposed to be bumpy, so a smooth tongue is worrisome. A smooth tongue is caused by several different things such as vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, or an underlying medical condition.

Common symptoms associated with smooth tongue include bad breath and a metallic taste in your mouth. Other signs that you may have a smooth tongue are the inability to taste food properly, swollen taste buds, and difficulty talking.

If you suspect you have a smooth tongue, it is important to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will help you to determine if there is an underlying medical cause or if something else is going on like dryness from dehydration or medication side effects. Treatment will depend on the cause but could involve dietary changes such as taking vitamins or increasing water intake.


Soreness of the tongue is often associated with spots. This is caused by many things, but the most common is bacteria or viruses. If your tongue is sore and you notice spots, it’s best to get it checked out by a doctor. They will be able to determine if there are any underlying causes for your discomfort.


Macroglossia is a medical condition that involves an abnormally large tongue. Sometimes, spots on tongue are caused by this condition and should be investigated by a doctor. The spots may vary in size and shape but are usually white or gray. They cause difficulty speaking, eating, or even breathing if they are severe enough to interfere with airway passage.

Treatment for macroglossia includes surgical removal of excess tissue, speech therapy, and sometimes steroids to reduce inflammation.

Fissured Tongue

A fissured tongue is when there are deep grooves, cracks, or furrows on the surface of the tongue. It is a relatively common condition that has the potential to affect anyone, but it is more commonly seen in people over 40 years old.

A fissured tongue typically does not cause any discomfort and usually does not require treatment; however, it may be associated with other conditions, such as psoriasis and geographic tongue, which cause spots.

Who Gets Spots On The Tongue?

Getting spots on your tongue is a potential for anyone, but it is more likely if you smoke, chew tobacco, or consume excessive amounts of alcohol. It is also more common in people who have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or medications. You should also be wary of spots if you have a dry mouth or do not drink enough, as this increases your risk.

How To Prevent Spots On The Tongue: Proven Methods

There are many ways to prevent spots on tongue, but they are often specific to whatever condition they are caused by. If you're not sure of which condition you have yet, read on to find some general guidelines you should follow to reduce the spots you have and/or the risk of contracting spots in the future.

Quit Smoking

Smoking causes many health problems, including spots on the tongue. The tar and nicotine in cigarettes cause discoloration of the tongue, as well as other abnormalities, including spots that could be cancerous. Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of developing spots on tongue.

Say No To Alcohol

While alcohol is fine in moderation, excessive consumption is irritating and causes tongue spots due to the presence of yeast. This is especially common in those who have a weakened immune system or are already prone to thrush due to their diet. As such, it is important to limit your alcohol consumption or abstain altogether to avoid these pesky spots.

Get Regular Dental Checkups

Going to the dentist regularly is a crucial part of maintaining your oral health.

Dentists help identify any spots that may be forming on your tongue, as well as provide advice and treatment plans to prevent the condition from worsening. The earlier a spot is identified, the better chance you have of treating it before it causes any further damage.


Aside from cutting alcohol and smoking from your lifestyle and adding in regular visits to the dentist, you should:

  1. Brush your tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush or a tongue scraper twice daily. This helps reduce bacteria, which leads to spots on tongue.
  2. Rinse your mouth out with an antibacterial mouthwash after brushing and flossing to help prevent any further bacterial buildup in the mouth.
  3. Reduce your intake of spicy, salty, and acidic foods. These may cause irritation on the surface of your tongue and increase your risk of developing spots.
  4. Take Vitamin B12 supplements. They help with the production of red blood cells and prevent anemia, which are also causes of spots on tongue.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water. Water helps keep your mouth hydrated and reduces inflammation that could be causing spots on your tongue.
  6. Avoid over-the-counter medications that contain high levels of paracetamol or ibuprofen. These may cause irritation in your mouth and increase your risk of developing spots on the tongue.
  7. Consume foods with probiotics such as yogurt or fermented foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut. These foods help to kill bacteria in the mouth that can cause spotting.

What Are Those Bumps On My Tongue?

Bumps on your tongue may be a cause for concern, especially if they’re painful or bothersome. Common causes of spots on the tongue include oral thrush, geographic tongue, canker sores, and trauma from biting or burning your tongue with hot food or drinks. Because they are caused by an underlying medical condition, they should be evaluated by a doctor if they persist for longer than “several days”, according to Healthline.

What Do Spots On My Tongue Mean?

Spots on tongue indicate many different conditions or causes, such as infection, trauma, vitamin deficiencies, and even cancer. While some spots may be harmless, others require medical attention or treatment. It is important to understand the potential causes of spots on your tongue to determine whether they are something serious or not. If they persist longer than a few days, especially after trying the home remedies listed above, you should consult a medical professional.

What Causes Little Spots On The Tongue?

Little spots on tongue are common and often harmless. They usually indicate a minor irritation or inflammation. Spots often appear as white, red, or black bumps on the tongue. These spots are usually caused by trauma, infection, allergy, or a variety of other causes, but if they persist longer than a few days, you should talk to a medical professional.

What Infections Cause Spots On The Tongue?

Spots on tongue are caused by infections like oral thrush, syphilis, herpes simplex virus (HSV), and human papillomavirus (HPV). Other causes of tongue spots include trauma from biting or burning the tongue, geographic tongue, and lichen planus.

Infection is the most common cause of tongue spots and leads to red, white, or yellow patches, leading to what is known as white, red, or yellow tongue. It is treated through oral medications and lifestyle changes.

How Do I Get Rid Of A Spotty Tongue?

Spots on tongue are treated in many ways, depending on their cause. The most common treatment practices are:

  • Scrubbing your tongue with a soft toothbrush or tongue scraper
  • Drinking lots of water and eating healthy foods
  • Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and spicy foods that irritate your mouth

If these treatments don't help over a few days, you may have an issue with fungus, a nutritional deficiency, or even cancer, so you should consult a medical professional about treatment options.

Is It OK To Have Spots On Your Tongue?

Usually, spots on tongue are an indicator of an underlying issue, such as an infection or a vitamin deficiency. In many cases, spots on the tongue are benign and do not require treatment, but it is important to have them checked out by a medical professional if they persist or cause discomfort. So it is not ok to have them, but they are treatable and should hopefully leave within a few days either on their own or with your help.

Can Stress Cause Tongue Spots?

Stress may cause many physical symptoms, including spots on your tongue. Spots on the tongue range from white patches to red bumps or blisters. They are painful and uncomfortable and may indicate an underlying medical condition.

Stress is often linked to inflammation in the body which leads to these types of changes in the mouth.

If you are experiencing any spotting on your tongue that doesn’t go away with rest or home remedies, it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

How Long Do Spots On The Tongue Last?

Spots on tongue last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the cause. Some spots may go away independently while others may require treatment or further evaluation by your doctor. If they persist beyond a few days, especially with your own intervention, you should talk to a medical professional.

What STD Causes Red Spots On The Tongue?

Red spots on tongue are caused by syphilis, streptococcus bacteria infection, or herpes on the tongue, known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). If you believe an STD is what caused the red spots on your tongue, it is important to get tested and treated as soon as possible, so talk to a medical professional about your options.

Should I Be Worried About Red Spots On My Tongue?

It depends. In some cases, the red spots might be nothing more than a harmless reaction to something in your diet or environment. However, in other cases, they could be indicative of an underlying health condition that needs treatment.

If they persist beyond a few days, especially after improving your oral health and lifestyle, you should talk to a medical professional about what the cause might be, then find treatment options together.

Why Do I Get Random Sore Spots On My Tongue?

Random sore spots on tongue are caused by a variety of factors, from allergies to infections. This is a common issue that causes discomfort and even pain. If they are "random" and do not persist, they are most likely caused by allergies or temperature sensitivity, so you should make sure your food is cool enough to eat and track which foods could be causing the sore spots. If they do persist, however, you should contact a medical professional.

Are Spots Different From White Tongue?

Yes and no. Sometimes white tongue presents as white spots but sometimes spots are red or bumpy. It’s important to note the difference between white spots and other spots, as some are a sign of an underlying condition.

While some causes of spots and white tongue are the same, like geographic tongue and leukoplakia, others are very different. For example, red spots often indicate allergies or an infection while bumps may be a sign of something more serious, like oral cancer.

It’s important to get the right diagnosis and treatment if necessary, so pay close attention to color when evaluating yourself or preparing your symptom list for your doctor.

The Lowdown

Spots on the tongue may be a sign of a variety of conditions, ranging from harmless to serious. If you notice any spots on your tongue, it is important to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider and get an accurate diagnosis.

Depending on the underlying cause, treatment may include dietary changes, medications, and other forms of therapy. Additionally, practicing good oral hygiene habits such as brushing twice daily and flossing regularly helps prevent the formation of new spots on your tongue.