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Problems of the Tongue

There are more common health problems that can occur with the tongue than you would probably guess. While most are not serious, a few can require medical attention. Because many of these develop during childhood, it’s important to have a pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) professional evaluate and treat them as needed.

Causes and concerns

There are a number of concerns that can be noticeable when it comes to your child’s tongue. Whether it’s discolored or has limited mobility, it’s a good idea to have your pediatric ENT examine your child. Some common tongue conditions that children can experience include:

  • Hairy tongue: This is a condition caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, which build up on the tongue and cause a hair-like appearance on the papillae. Hairy tongue is usually confined to a small area, and it is caused by poor mouth hygiene, dehydration, certain antibiotics and in some cases, a lack of saliva (dry mouth).
  • Fungal infections (more commonly called thrush): Anyone can develop thrush, and it is caused by yeast. Infants and children are at the highest risk for developing thrush, although it can be passed to the mother through breastfeeding. Babies and young children will put anything in their mouths and fungus and germs of all kinds are just waiting for a host to come along.
  • Ankyloglossia (tongue tied): This condition is caused when the frenulum, which is attached to the center of the tongue, is unusually short, thick or tight. This affects newborns and children and is often overlooked by parents and doctors. It can cause the child difficulty when eating, breastfeeding or taking the bottle, which may lead to weight loss or failure to gain weight. It may also affect the child’s speech.

Symptoms and signs

There are many warning symptoms and signs of problems with the tongue. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, consider making an appointment with one of our caring ENTs. The symptoms and signs include:

  • A hairy appearing tongue (hairy tongue)
  • A bright red tongue (certain infections)
  • A patchy, discolored tongue (geographic tongue)
  • White patches on the tongue (thrush)
  • Trouble moving tongue from side to side (tongue-tied)
  • Unable to touch the roof of the mouth with the tongue (tongue-tied)
  • Unable to stick the tongue out any further than the upper gums (tongue-tied)
  • Swelling of the tongue (an allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention)
  • Sore mouth and sores on tongue (could indicate infection or oral cancer)

Solutions and options

Treatment of problems with the tongue depends on the cause of the condition. For the most part, tongue illnesses are easily treated. For example, brushing the tongue with a soft toothbrush using warm water can help a thrush problem clear up faster. The same method of brushing once a day will also help prevent and treat a hairy tongue. However, if your child has persistent tongue symptoms, you should make an appointment for an evaluation with one of our doctors.