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Mouth Diseases

White pimple on the side of my tongue?

01/05/2008

Question:

I just noticed a small "pimple" like bump on the back, right side of my tongue. It is white, but not painful. I tried popping it, but was unable to. What could this be? For a couple of years, I have had discolored patches on the same side of my tongue that seem to come and go. They do not feel any different than the rest of my tongue. Do you know what could cause this small "pimple"?

Answer:

Have you had this problem evaluated by either a dentist or physician? I would suggest that you do so in order to rule out any possibility of pathology. I can only make a guess at what is going on based upon your description.

With that in mind, I would presume that what you are describing as a "pimple" on the back of your tongue is the circumvallate papilla, or a smaller papilla such as the filliform of fungiform.

The Circumvallate papillas are 1-2.5 mm projections located on the posterior dorsal aspect of the tongue. There are approximately 8-12 of these epithelial covered dome-like structures. The white appearance you describe may be related to keratinization and or desquaminated epithelial cells and debris. They are not pimples and trying to pop them is futile if not uncomfortable.

The other problem described involving the dorsum and lateral border of the tongue may be what is referred to as "benign migratory glossitis or geographic tongue". This is a loss of papillary architecture and results in a reddened smooth surface that has irregular borders, hence the name geographic tongue since it has the appearance of a map with irregular borders.

The etiology (cause) is unknown but has been associated with fungal and bacterial interactions, and also psoriasis and asthma, thus BMG may be related to localized immune interactions (T-Cell) and inflammatory mediators or medications.

Treatment is palliative and its occurrence is variable.

As mentioned, you need to have a trained person evaluate these observations to rule out possible pathology.

Related Resources:

Geographic Tongue (American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology)

For more information:

Go to the Mouth Diseases health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University