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Tongue Sores and Bumps

By David F. Murchison, DDS, MMS, Clinical Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas; Clinical Professor, Texas A & M University Baylor College of Dentistry

The side of the tongue may enlarge (bump out) next to missing teeth. Sores on the tongue can be caused by

  • Allergic reactions

  • Oral herpes simplex virus infection

  • Tuberculosis

  • Bacterial infections

  • Early-stage syphilis

  • Allergies or other immune system disorders

Although small bumps on both sides of the tongue are usually harmless, a bump on only one side may be cancerous. Unexplained red or white areas, sores, or lumps (particularly when hard) on the tongue—especially if painless—may be signs of cancer and should be examined by a doctor or dentist ( see Mouth and Throat Cancer). Most oral cancers grow on the sides of the tongue or on the floor of the mouth. Cancer almost never appears on the top of the tongue, except when the cancer occurs after untreated syphilis.