Rarely are tongue problems an indication of a serious condition. Even large, white bumps on the tongue shouldn't cause alarm. You're constantly exposing the tongue to substances that may lead to irritation, inflammation and even infection. All of which can be resolved rather quickly when you know what you're dealing with.
While the majority of bumps on the tongue aren't serious, talk to your doctor--not only for the purpose of treatment, which is often influenced by the type of lesion, but also to rule out certain conditions, including oral cancer. It's especially important to seek medical attention when a sore doesn't improve in one to two weeks, advises the American Dental Association.
Canker sores are one of the more common bumps to form on the surface of the tongue. These blister-like lesions are usually white in color with a red border and aren't often larger than 1/2 inch in diameter. They're usually accompanied by a stinging or burning sensation. Most canker sores resolve on their own, but larger or recurrent ulcers may need to be treated with dexamethasone, benzocaine, fluocinonide, tetracycline or amlexanox. Even certain heartburn medications, such as cimetidine, help heal these lesions.
The white bumps or patches may be an indication of leukoplakia, a sore resulting from chronic irritation to the mucus membrane of the tongue. According to MedlinePlus, a website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, this condition is most often seen in smokers or other tobacco users. It's also known to occur in people with weakened immune systems. Stopping the use of tobacco products usually causes the patches to subside. If tobacco use isn't the cause or stopping doesn't remedy the condition, have the patches removed by a medical professional. Sometimes, leukoplakia can be precancerous, so treatment is necessary to ensure the lesions aren't malignant.
Another potential cause of the large, white bumps is oral thrush. Oral thrush is basically a yeast infection of the mouth, causing cottage cheese-like lesions to form on the tongue. It's often accompanied by pain and even bleeding when the lesions are irritated in some way. Your treatment options include antifungal medications, probiotics and unsweetened yogurt, advises MayoClinic.com.
Though not as common as canker sores, leukoplakia and oral thrush, oral cancer can cause white bumps to form inside the mouth and even on the tongue. Early stages may not cause any pain, but you can experience persistent discomfort, as well as a sore throat, lump on the neck and mobility issues of the tongue. Treatment depends on the stage of the disease, rate of growth, overall health and other factors.