If your tongue has been sore lately, there are many possible causes, some serious.

The first thing to consider, when suffering from a sore tongue, is to see if you’ve recently cut it with sharp food, your teeth, or burned it with hot food or beverages. However, this kind of tongue soreness should be gone in a few days.

I consulted with Jordan S. Josephson, MD, Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY, Author of Sinus Relief Now, Director of the New York Nasal and Sinus Center. He cites quite a few conditions that can cause a sore tongue.

According to Dr. Josephson, here are just a few possible causes for a sore tongue: a bacterial, viral or fungal (thrush) infection; allergies; and tumors. Thrush can cause white plaque to coat the tongue.

“Sinus infection can lead to oral infection with the same bacteria,” he says. “Apthous stomatitis can cause irritation, pain and ulcers on the tongue.”

Inflammation of the tongue can be caused by many viruses, and can result in swollen taste buds and ulcers. Another cause of sore tongue is the herpes virus; this infection will manifest as lesions on the tongue.

If your tongue is sore, have you been subconsciously “chewing” on it? Perhaps the soreness is related to TMJ, or bruxism: teeth grinding at night.

A sore tongue might mean a person has diabetes or nasal obstruction, the latter leading to breathing through the mouth, which can cause discomfort to the tongue.

“Tumors, benign and cancerous, can cause sore tongue and need to be diagnosed early because squamous cell carcinoma, if found at a late stage, has a deleterious prognosis and can metastasize,” says Dr. Josephson.

“Cancer of the tongue is seen more often in smokers and alcohol drinkers.”

Certain foods can even cause a sore tongue, such as citrus and coffee, which contain compounds that can irritate the tongue and taste buds. Smoking is another possible culprit as far as irritation.

Dr. Josephson explains, “If your tongue is sore and it does not go away, then you need to see a board certified otolaryngologist — head and neck surgeon, as soon as possible to work up the cause and to treat it successfully. If you bit your tongue and the soreness goes away in a couple of days, then you probably need not worry.”