What Are Tongue Pimples & How Do You Treat Them? Experts Explain
Facial acne is something we all experience at one point in our lives. Tongue pimples, on the other hand, are less recognized but actually quite common. The painful red and white bumps on the tongue—called transient lingual papillitis (TLP)—are a relatively common and underdiagnosed1 condition. In fact, "more than 50% of the population will experience these bumps in their lifetime," board-certified dermatologist Daniel Carrasco, M.D., FAAD, explains. So what causes them, and how can they be treated?
What are tongue pimples?
Despite their resemblance, tongue pimples (or lie bumps), do not fall under the same category as facial acne.
"This is a common painful inflammatory condition that affects the taste buds on the tip of the tongue," Carrasco says. "More precisely, it affects one or several taste buds, called fungiform papillae."
- Painful, burning or tingling sensations
- Raised red or white bump toward the tip of the tongue
"Thankfully, symptoms are transient and last one to two days, then disappear," Carrasco says. In some cases, the bumps will only last for a few hours, but they do tend to recur.
What causes them?
There is not one specific cause and effect, but "the most likely cause of lie bumps is local irritation to the taste buds at the tip of the tongue," he says.
Some triggers of that irritation may include:
- Acidic foods
- Foods high in sugar
- Spicy foods
- Gut dysfunction or inflammation
How can you treat them?
Since tongue pimples tend to disappear within a few days, there's no real need to treat them. However, if they're particularly painful or irritating, there are a couple of ways to help manage those symptoms:
Eliminate trigger foods.
Similar to other dermatologic conditions, Carrasco says reducing or eliminating trigger foods can improve your symptoms—especially since gastrointestinal and hormonal issues are two potential causes of TLP.
Cutting down on excess sugars, dairy, or refined carbohydrates may help heal your gut and, subsequently, your tongue. Removing spicy or highly acidic foods while your tongue is inflamed can prevent further irritation and burning. Instead, eat cool and soothing foods, like yogurt.
Rinse with salt water.
To provide symptomatic relief, he recommends rinsing your mouth with salt water. If your lie bumps are severe, you can talk to your doctor about getting prescription mouthwash, which can help alleviate mouth sores and prevent bacteria buildup.
Manage your stress.
Since stress may lead to these bumps, try to recognize what type of stress you're dealing with and work on managing it. This may include meditating, exercising, getting adequate sleep, or taking supplements to help manage anxious feelings.*
Could this be a sign of another condition?
Since TLP is a recurring condition, you'll probably recognize the bumps and know what they are. If you experience a bump that's unfamiliar to you, it's a good idea to consult your doctor.
Other tongue bumps may be caused by:
- Biting or burning your tongue
- Canker sores
- Oral herpes
- Allergic reaction
- Oral cancer
- Oral thrush (aka oral candidiasis)
When should you see your doctor?
"The good news is that transient lingual papillitis is benign," Carrasco says, "and not associated with any long-term dangers." That being said, any time you notice bumps on your tongue, it's a good idea to see your doctor. "There are many conditions of the mouth and tongue that must be ruled out before it is assumed that the condition is just benign." If the inflammation on your tongue lasts for more than one week, consult your physician.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.