Introduction to transient tongue papillitis


Transient tongue papillitis, also called "tubercles," is a common inflammatory condition that affects the tongue, especially the mushroom-shaped papillae.

Mushroom-shaped papillae are flat pink bumps located on the apex and sides of the tongue, especially closer to the tip. They contain taste buds and temperature-sensitive receptors. When these papillae become irritated and inflamed, it can cause a sore tongue and difficulty eating.

Many different factors are associated with transient papillitis of the tongue, including infections, chronic injuries, heat injuries, or ingestion of spicy or acidic foods. Health professionals diagnose this condition by taking a medical history and performing an oral exam. A biopsy is rarely done.

Treatment for transient tongue papillitis is supportive, meaning your doctor may recommend treatments (salt water gargles, cold food, or topical corticosteroids) that can ease any discomfort in your tongue.

Martin Barro / OJO Images / Getty Images

Types and symptoms

The symptoms of transient papillitis of the tongue vary depending on the type:

Classic or localized type

This type of transient papillitis of the tongue refers to the inflammation of one or more mushroom-shaped papillae in one area of the tongue, often at the tip.

It manifests as one or more painful red or white-yellow bumps. The bumps usually disappear in a day or two; although, in rare cases, it may take several days.

Other symptoms associated with this type include :

  • Burning, tingling, or itching of the tongue
  • Sensitivity to hot food.
  • Eating problems, especially spicy or very acidic foods.
  • Distorted taste (called dysgeusia )
  • Dry mouth

Type of eruptive tongue papillitis

This type usually affects children and causes a sudden illness of the whole body. The child often has a fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck ("swollen glands") as well as painful lumps on the tip and sides of the tongue.

The disease lasts on average about a week, but after a couple of months it can recur.

In addition to pain, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, the child may salivate and have difficulty eating .

Home transmission can occur with eruptive-type tongue papillitis. In adults, the disease often manifests itself as a sudden burning sensation on the tongue, which increases with eating .

Type of papulokeratosis

The type of papulokeratosis causes the formation of several white to yellow bumps all over the tongue. The bumps are painless and can come and go or persist for a long time.


The exact cause of transient tongue papillitis is unknown. However, experts suspect that this is due to one or more triggers, such as :

  • An underlying viral or bacterial infection (usually associated with eruptive papillitis of the tongue)
  • Mild chronic irritation or trauma from sharp / broken teeth or wearing braces
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor nutrition
  • Heat trauma to the tongue
  • Eating spicy or acidic foods (such as foods that contain cinnamon or capsaicin )
  • Smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Using certain oral hygiene products
  • Fluctuating hormones (such as during menstruation or menopause)
  • It can also be associated with an atopic condition (such as eczema).

Research also suggests that transient papillitis of the tongue may be associated with food allergies. It can also be seen in other basic linguistic states, such as geographic language .


When diagnosing transient tongue papillitis, your doctor will write a medical history that investigates possible triggers (such as trauma). Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, which will focus on the area of the mouth, tongue, lips, and neck (to look for swollen lymph nodes).

Less commonly, a biopsy (when a small piece of tissue is removed from the tongue and examined under a microscope) is done to rule out an alternative diagnosis.

Watch out

Because this tongue condition usually clears up within a few hours to a few days, treatment is often unnecessary.

However, to relieve symptoms, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Salt water rinse
  • Cold drinks and food
  • Anesthetic or antiseptic mouthwashes
  • Topical steroids such as 0.1% triamcinolone acetonide toothpaste
  • Avoid irritating gums, candy, or oral hygiene products.

Removal of triggers may also be recommended to prevent recurrence of the condition.

Get the word of drug information

Transient lingual papillitis is a common, often painful, condition of the tongue. While it may feel uncomfortable and your tongue may seem unsightly, rest assured that the condition is harmless and will go away soon, usually within a day or two.

If you suspect that you have transient tongue papillitis or have noticed a new change in your tongue, it is recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor, especially if it does not go away in a few days.

Related Articles
Foods to Avoid If You Have Dry Mouth From Radiation

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a common side effect of radiation therapy for people undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer. Read more

Thyroid adenoma: Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your throat that produces hormones affecting a number of Read more

NSAIDs and You Thyroid Function

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most frequently taken over-the-counter medications. Due to their systemic or whole body effects, it's Read more

How Doctors Are Failing Thyroid Disease Patients

The thyroid disease community has continually mentioned the lack of support they experience and the difficulty they have navigating the Read more