Tongue ulcers are very common, particularly in people under age 40. Medically known as aphthous ulcers or canker sores, they are small crater-like sores which usually occur on the sides of the tongue or underneath. Canker sores also can occur on the interior of the cheeks and lips and on the gums. Three types have been identified.
Minor canker sores are the most common type of tongue ulcer, usually measuring only a few millimeters in diameter at most. Herpetiform tongue ulcers involve a cluster of small sores. Both these types usually take about a week to heal. Major canker sores are uncommon, and may have a diameter larger than 10 mm. They can take up to a month to heal and sometimes leave a scar.
A person about to get a tongue ulcer may first notice a burning or tingling sensation, along with a tiny bump in the affected area. Within a day, the sore ruptures and becomes a crater, covered with a thin white or yellow membrane layer.
The primary symptom of tongue ulcers is pain. These tiny sores can cause much discomfort, especially when they are bumped or when the person eats acidic or salty foods. Depending on the location and size, tongue ulcers can make chewing, swallowing and talking painful.
The tongue ulcers may have a small area of swelling and redness around the sore. Larger and more painful ulcers can also result in a sore throat or tonsil on the side the ulcer is located, or a swollen lymph gland in the neck on that side. Rarely, a person with a tongue ulcer might develop a mild fever.
Tongue ulcers resolve on their own, but certain treatments can relieve pain and swelling. A person with a tongue ulcer might want to try an herbal mouth rinse containing myrrh or aloe vera. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help if the pain is causing problems with eating or swallowing. Alternative health practitioners recommend vitamin supplements, particularly the B-group and C, to prevent canker sores.