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Swellings and ulcers in the oral cavity in general and the side of the tongue in particular can be very painful and irritating. These patches keep on getting irritated due to a constant and repetitive trauma from the teeth as well as the various food articles we ingest on a daily basis.

Most of these ulcers and swellings are caused by viral infections, although there can be other causes as well.

Possible causes

  • Major Aphthous Ulcers - These occur most commonly on the side of the tongue as well as the hard part of the palate. They are caused by a virus that belongs to the herpes virus family. Even though almost all adults in the world have been exposed to this virus at some point or another and it remains latent in the body for large periods of time, it can cause an outbreak during periods of compromised immunity.

An increase in incidence has been noted during periods of stress or other systemic illnesses. These ulcers can get infected and have pus form inside them. These ulcers are relatively large in size and can be acutely painful, and additionally cause a slight swelling of the affected area.

  • Trauma - This is probably the most common cause of any bumps or swellings on the tongue. It can be due to inadvertently biting the tongue or the tongue being scalded by a hot piece of food. Such an event can sometimes take place in the night while sleeping as well and so the person affected will not be aware of when the trauma took place.
The tongue remains sore and painful until the trauma has healed.
  • Oral Cancer - This is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer worldwide. Its incidence is much higher in people who have a high amount of tobacco intake although it can develop in people who are not exposed to tobacco at all as well. Any bump or swelling that persists for a long time or grows in size should be shown to a doctor as soon as possible, as early detection of any cancerous lesion can save the patient from a large amount of trauma and destruction.
  • Allergies - If the swelling or patch has appeared soon after the introduction of a different mouthwash, gum or toothpaste then it could be allergic in nature. Even though these products are tested extensively for any possible effects on the general population, a small percentage of people will always react to some of the ingredients added.
  • Other Systemic disorders - There are other systemic disorders that can be associated with swellings in the oral cavity like Behcets Syndrome, Median Rhomboid Glossitis and others all of which will present with other identifying symptoms as well.


The treatment will depend on the diagnosis that has been reached. However most commonly these things are self-limiting and will only require symptomatic treatment like an antiseptic and analgesic gel application. A biopsy may be required to rule out any cancerous growth.

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