Does a Highly Acidic Diet Cause Tongue Pain?

Young woman sticking her tongue out, close-up, part of
Tongue pain may spring from acid in foods like lemons. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Tongue problems can result from injury, smoking, vitamin deficiency, taking antibiotics, using mouthwash and allergic reactions to certain foods. But for some people, acidic foods are to blame. Understanding how high-acid foods might directly or indirectly lead to tongue pain, as well as the kinds of tongue pain that exist, will help you determine dietary changes and treatment options that may ease tongue pain.

Acidic Foods

The definition of an “acidic” food to an oral health professional may differ from that used by advocates of the “acid alkaline diet” that aims to balance the body's pH levels, notes Columbia University’s Health Services program. Acidic foods that might irritate your tongue and erode tooth enamel include pineapple, citrus fruits, apples and grapes, as well as wine and fruit juices made from grapes or apples. Other foods high in this kind of acidity include yogurt and sodas. In terms of pH balance and digestion, lemons and vinegar actually rank low in acidity, while grains, dairy and beans are “high-acid” foods. If you are concerned about tongue pain and acidic foods, specify to your doctor or dentist exactly what foods you consume.

Temporary Pain

According to the Merck Manual Home Edition, temporary tongue pain is known simply as “tongue discomfort.” Pineapple and other acidic foods may irritate the tongue, as can injury and fungal disease. The handbook suggests eliminating suspected irritants one by one until you determine the likely culprit.

Secondary Symptom

Some people experience tongue pain as a secondary response to tooth and gum pain, MedlinePlus notes. In this case, an acidic diet may come into play by breaking down tooth enamel. Eroded tooth enamel can lead to cavities or an abscess, a kind of infection that causes toothache and temperature sensitivity in the mouth, among other symptoms. If you have tongue pain as well as mouth or tooth pain, ask your dentist to check for cavities and oral infections.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

While some tongue pain comes from a temporary irritation from acidic foods, burning mouth syndrome is a long-term issue. It is more common for acidic food preservatives to trigger burning mouth syndrome than it is to experience it after eating simple acid foods such as vinegar or lemon juice. Before buying packaged foods, look for the terms sorbic acid or benzoic acid on the label. Avoid foods with these preservatives if you suspect they are causing tongue pain. Other substances associated with burning mouth syndrome include mouthwash, antibiotics and cinnamon.

Treatment

Cutting back on acidic foods is an obvious first step to reducing or eliminating mouth and tongue pain. For temporary discomfort, rinse your mouth with salt water. Burning mouth syndrome may require prescription medication, along with measures such as chewing gum or drinking extra water to provide adequate moisture. If you also have tooth pain, seek help from your dentist to improve oral hygiene and to repair tooth and gum damage.

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