Sores inside of the mouth, on the lips and even on the tongue itself are actually very common. These sores are not usually a serious medical problem, but they can be distracting and painful because of their location. Eating, drinking and even talking can cause the sores to hurt when they are located on the tongue.
The most common type of oral sore that can affect the tongue is a canker sore. About 75% of the population gets them at some point. Canker sores are a type of ulcer that occurs inside of the mouth: on the tongue, inside of the lips or cheeks, on the gums or on the roof of the mouth. Canker sores are painful to the touch and usually appear as a white circle with a border that is much more red than the surrounding tissue. Eating food or drinking liquid may cause the sore to sting. Canker sores can appear when a person has some trauma to the lining of the mouth, for example from having braces that scrape the inside of the lips or accidentally biting the tongue or lip. Eating acidic foods is also thought to trigger canker sores in individuals who are susceptible to them. High levels of stress can also contribute. Canker sores are the most painful for a few days, and then they become less sensitive as they start to heal. The sore is usually fully healed within 14 days or less. Canker sores usually do not require medical attention, but if they are really slow to heal or show signs of infection, a doctor may prescribe mouth washes or creams to help with the problem.
Another type of mouth sore that can occur is a cold sore, but cold sores do not usually occur on the inside of the mouth. Canker sores and cold sores are commonly confused, but they are completely different because canker sores are not contagious, and cold sores are. Cold sores are caused by a herpes virus infection and are more like blisters than ulcers. They usually appear on the outside of the lips. Antiviral medications can be used to control cold sores, but the herpes virus infection is not curable.
Oral cancer is fairly uncommon, but in some cases a cancerous lesion can start out as a mouth sore located on the tongue. It may appear similar to a canker sore but get abnormally large and not heal after a couple of weeks. It is a good idea to seek medical attention for sores on the tongue that are abnormally large, severely impair fluid intake, appear with a high fever or do not heal after three weeks.