What Does It Mean When You Have Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?

Reviewed on 11/17/2020

What Are Bumps on the Tongue?

Your tongue has bumps on the back called papillae that are part of its normal anatomy; do nothing if you have no other symptoms. New or different bumps or masses can be caused by infections or other conditions.
Your tongue has bumps on the back called papillae that are part of its normal anatomy; do nothing if you have no other symptoms. New or different bumps or masses can be caused by infections or other conditions.

Bumps on the tongue (papillae) contain taste buds, temperature receptors, and a good blood supply. Different types of papillae are scattered over the top and sides of the tongue, with most being on the tip. 

Bumps on the tongue are normal and you should not be able to feel them most of the time. Most bumps on the tongue are relatively flat, pink, and not very obvious.

What Are Symptoms of Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?

Depending on the condition that causes the bumps, other symptoms that may accompany bumps on the back of the tongue include: 

  • Pain when eating or swallowing
  • White patches lining the cheeks, on the tongue, or on back of the throat 
  • Redness inside the mouth without white patches
  • Cotton-mouth
  • Bleeding from the bump
  • Trouble speaking or moving the tongue
  • Mouth or tongue pain
  • Lump in the neck
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Feeling ill (malaise)

What Causes Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?

Some common causes of bumps on the back of the tongue include: 

  • Transient lingual papillitis 
    • Very common
  • Usually a single painful raised red or white bump on the tongue
    • Commonly caused by local irritation or trauma to papillae
    • Other possible triggers may include stress, hormone fluctuations, gastrointestinal upset, and certain foods
  • Canker sores 
    • Open sores (ulcers) in the mouth or on the tongue 
    • White or yellow in the middle, and red around the edges 
    • Certain foods, infections, and biting the tongue or inside of the cheek can make canker sores more likely to develop
  • Oral thrush
    • May be referred to as a yeast infection of the mouth and throat
    • An infection caused by a fungus called “candida”
  • Cold sores (fever blisters)
  • Leukoplakia
    • White or gray patches inside the mouth or on the tongue 
    • May be caused by irritation in the mouth, smoking, or chewing tobacco 
  • Squamous cell papilloma 
  • Oral cancer/tongue cancer
    • Occurs when normal cells in the tongue change into abnormal cells and grow out of control 
    • May occur in people with leukoplakia

How Are Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue Diagnosed?

The cause of bumps on the back of the tongue is diagnosed with an oral exam. 

Tests that may be used to diagnose the cause of bumps on the back of the tongue include: 

  • Swab along the tongue or cheek to collect fluid 
  • Biopsy of the bump

What Is the Treatment for Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?

  • Transient lingual papillitis 
    • Most of the time, no treatment is needed as the bump will go away on its own within hours to days
    • Salt water mouth rinse
    • Drink cold fluids
    • Topical antiseptics 
    • Anesthetic mouthwash
    • Topical steroids
  • Canker sores 
    • Most heal on their own within a few weeks
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers 
    • Topical gel anesthetics
    • Salt water gargle  
    • Avoid eating or drinking hot and spicy foods
    • Prescription mouthwash or medicine for severe symptoms
  • Oral thrush
    • Prescription mouth rinse or a lozenge 
    • A tablet that sticks to the gums
    • A pill to kill yeast (for severe infections)
  • Cold sores (fever blisters)
    • Treatment is usually needed the first time cold sores occur but once they have happened before, if symptoms are mild treatment may not be needed
    • Antiviral medicines
    • Pain-relieving pills and gels on the mouth
  • Leukoplakia
    • Avoid the cause (smoking, chewing tobacco, or another oral irritant)
    • Surgery to remove the abnormal patches
  • Squamous cell papilloma 
    • They are usually not painful and often do not require treatment
    • Surgical removal if needed
  • Oral cancer/tongue cancer

How Do You Prevent Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?

Some causes of bumps on the back of the tongue may be able to be prevented. 

  • Canker sores
    • Take care not to accidentally bite the cheek while chewing
    • Avoid toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulfate, an abrasive chemical that can cause canker sores in some people 
    • Vitamin B-12 supplements may eliminate canker sore recurrence 
    • Ketogenic diet, a type of low carbohydrate diet, may reduce or eliminate canker sores in some patients 
    • Practice stress reduction techniques 
  • Oral thrush
    • Practice proper oral hygiene
    • For people who wear dentures, clean them every night and give your mouth some time without the dentures
  • Leukoplakia 
    • Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco
    • Make sure dentures are properly fitted
  • Oral cancer/tongue cancer
    • Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco
    • If you are diagnosed with leukoplakia, make sure it’s treated

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 11/17/2020
References