how to treat a tongue burn

Tongue burns are pretty common. Usually, a tongue burn occurs when you eat hot food or drinks. While a tongue burn can be problematic and make it difficult to eat and drink, it will heal in a few days (depending on the extent of the burn). However, if you sustain severe burns, you should seek medical attention from your doctor or dentist as soon as possible.

Causes of a tongue burn

We will classify the causes of tongue burns into two; normal tongue burn and burning mouth syndrome.

Tongue burn

It is caused by hastily putting foods or drinks in your mouth without stopping to check their temperature. Steam, hot liquids and food can burn the lips, mouth, and the tongue.

Burning mouth syndrome (BMS)

It is a condition where you have a burning sensation on your tongue without having actual burns. The symptoms of this condition last for years.

In addition to pain, BMS is accompanied by a tingling sensation and numbness of the tongue. Unfortunately, BMS doesn’t have a known cause, but it’s linked to abnormal mouth nerve function.

An individual’s environment and genetics are also known to have a hand in its development.

Other secondary causes may include;

  •    Dentures
  •    Allergic reactions
  •    Hypothyroidism and diabetes
  •    Some medication, including those prescribed for high blood pressure
  •    Mouth trauma or injury
  •    Vitamin deficiencies

Read our full article on how to treat burning mouth syndrome.

Symptoms of tongue burn

Tongue burn

Tongue burns often look and feel different. They take different patterns and depend on the degree of burn.

  •    In the 1st degree burn, only the outermost tongue layer is affected. You’ll experience some pain, and the tongue may swell and turn red
  •    2nd-degree burns are a little more painful compared to 1st-degree burns. In this, the outer and underlying layers are injured. The tongue swells, turn red and blisters may appear.
  •    3rd-degree tongue burns affect deep tongue tissues. The skin becomes black or white and seems to be burnt. You may also experience severe pain and numbness.

In addition to these symptoms, the papillae on the tongue may disappear. If this happens, you’ll feel the tongue is unusually smooth.

Between these papillae are the taste buds. When the papillae are affected, your sense of taste will be affected (temporarily).

Complications of tongue burns

For a severe tongue burn, if not adequately treated, it might get infected. A tongue burn also causes loss of sensation in the affected area as well as diminished taste abilities. However, these complications are temporary, as taste buds often regenerate in a few days or weeks.

Treating a tongue burn

Breathe through your mouth

The moment you realise your food or drink is too hot, spit it out and immediately stick your tongue out. Breathe through your mouth and let the fresh air coming in offer some relief.

Take something cold

Placing something cold on your tongue after a burn will instantly relieve you from the pain, prevent the tissue from further damage and reduce inflammation. It also helps to keep your mouth moist and hydrated, thus avoiding a bacterial infection.

For this, you could suck on an ice pop, eat ice-cream, sip some cold water or cold juice (whatever you have available). Whichever item you choose, try and have it in your mouth for longer.

Swish warm water

Lukewarm water helps to reduce tongue damage as it increases microcirculatory perfusion. Salty water is best because the salt helps to prevent bacterial infection as well.

Swish the solution for 30 seconds before spitting it out (1).

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera helps to soothe damaged cells, reduce inflammation and pain. It also helps in healing. Aloe Vera is recommended for both 1st and 2nd-degree burns.

Apply some fresh Aloe Vera on your tongue or freeze fresh gel and suck on it (2).

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is a natural remedy that provides instant relief from the burning heat. Take a cup of plain yoghurt (cold) and hold it in your mouth for as long as possible before you swallow it.

Mint

Mint is rich in methanol, which helps in numbing the burnt area and reduce the inflammation. Additionally, it has antibacterial properties that reduce the risk of infection. Apply mint toothpaste to your tongue, and once it dries up, rinse it with some cold water. Repeat this twice or thrice a day.

Vitamin E Oil

This vitamin provides instant relief and helps in tissue regeneration. Pop a vitamin E oil capsule and empty it on your tongue. Spread the oil on your tongue using your fingers, and repeat this several times a day.

Honey

Honey has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which makes it a perfect solution for burns, including tongue burns (3).

Sugar

Sugar offers comfort to tongue burns and helps in boosting the recovery of your sense of taste. Spread a teaspoon of honey on your tongue and let it soothe your tongue for as long as you can before you swallow.

When to see a doctor

You should see your doctor when you sustain 2nd or 3rd-degree burns.

Healing time for a tongue burn

A 1st-degree tongue burn can take a few days up to 2 weeks to recover even without treatment. However, 2nd degree or 3rd-degree burns may take up to 6 weeks.

How to prevent a tongue burn

The easiest and surest way of avoiding a tongue burn is by checking the temperature of all foods and drinks that you intend to eat before throwing them into your mouth. Also, be extra careful with microwave-heated foods as they don’t heat evenly.

Tongue burns are rarely severe. But in case of an accident and you sustain 2nd or 3rd-degree burns, seek medical attention immediately as any delays may cause the situation to worsen. Most importantly, be sure to conduct first aid to contain the situation.

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Joseph Xuereb
Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.