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Dental and Oral Health (Adults)

Red Spots on My Tongue

06/23/2009

Question:

I cannot be exact on how long it has been there, but my guess could be up to two months ago, i noticed a small maybe pea sized red spot on the top of my tongue. I never thought much about it until i visited my dentist yesterday when she looked at it under some blue light. She had asked me if i smoked (which i don`t) and then asked me if i have eaten anything spicy (i said maybe but knew to myself it had no relevance considering it has been there so long). Within the past two weeks another one has appeared in the same area of my tongue only on the other side. I failed to inform my dentist i use smokeless tobacco. Now i have my mother scaring me telling me i may have cancer. To be exact the spots are about pea sized, almost appears that there are no taste buds in what makes up the area. To the touch, the red spots feel a bit rougher than does the rest of my tongue. Thanks in advance for whoever could help me out with this problem.

Answer:

First, the red spots on your tongue are very unlikely to be related to your use of smokeless tobacco. However, it is extremely important that this information be shared with your dentist as it alerts her to look for other changes in your mouth that are associated with the use of smokeless tobacco products and are the precursors to serious diseases including oral cancer. 

From your description, it is difficult to diagnose the cause of these red spots. They can be as simple as inflamed papillae on the tongue to something more serious. Return to your dentist and be examined again. If she is not sure what you have, asked to be referred to an oral pathologist who should be able to determine what you have. If no oral pathologists are available in your area, your dentist or an oral surgeon can biopsy the area and send it to a laboratory for analysis. 

Although the tongue is a common area for oral cancers, it does not seem likely that your lesions are cancerous. However, to be certain, a definitive diagnosis should be made as it is still possible, though not likely, that this could be a serious problem. 

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Response by:

D Stanley Sharples, DDS
Clinical Assistant Professor of Primary Care Dentistry
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University