Your tongue is a muscle covered by a mucous membrane, which can make it susceptible to bacteria and infection. Color changes, sores and bumps on the tongue are common tongue problems, but they are rarely the sign of a serious condition. In most cases, the condition is harmless and you can clear it up with at-home treatment and proper oral hygiene.
Food particles, dead skin cells and bacteria can cling to your tongue, giving it a whitish appearance. The small projections on your tongue, called papillae, may swell, making it easier for bacteria to become trapped between them. Smoking, excessive drinking, dehydration, fever, burning your tongue and breathing through your mouth can cause the papillae to swell. Bumps along the back of your tongue are often inflamed papillae. Geographic tongue is a condition that causes white bumps over the tongue, with smooth patches in between. The condition is thought to be hereditary, though the exact cause of the condition is unknown, explains MayoClinic.com. Other causes of white bumps on the tongue include canker sores from a viral infection, oral thrush, a fungal infection, and leukoplakia, a precancerous lesion seen in people who use tobacco.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and brush your tongue with a tongue scraper daily to help get rid of surface debris and bacteria to get rid of a white tongue. Avoid alcohol and tobacco while your tongue heals. If the white bumps on your tongue are painful, such as canker sores or inflamed papillae, avoid spicy foods and gargle with salt water or hydrogen peroxide to help relieve pain. An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also help. Eating unsweetened yogurt with live cultures can help clear up fungal infections faster, explains FamilyDoctor.org.
Talk to your doctor or dentist about your tongue problems if the bumps are very painful or if your tongue appears white for more than two weeks. While most tongue problems are not serious and go away on their own, a persistent discolored tongue or bumps may indicate a medical condition, such as leukoplakia, since the lesions may be precancerous. Your doctor or dentist may prescribe an oral anti-fungal medication for oral thrush infections that do not clear on their own. Prescription anesthetic mouth rinses and ointments can help relieve discomfort and sensitivity from conditions such as geographic tongue.
You can prevent many tongue problems by practicing good oral hygiene and healthy lifestyle habits. Do not neglect your tongue while brushing your teeth. Gently scraping your toothbrush or a tongue scraper over your tongue every time you brush can help remove dead cells and bacteria that could lead to color changes and painful sores or bumps. Avoid tobacco products and consume alcohol and spicy foods in moderation to prevent injury to your tongue and other oral tissues.
Seek immediate medical attention if your tongue is swollen or extremely painful, as this can be a sign of a serious allergic reaction. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you have a medical condition or take any other medications before using over-the-counter pain relievers for painful bumps on your tongue and take all medications as directed. Do not use medications, toothpastes or topical products intended for adults in a child with a white or bumpy tongue.