What To Do When You Burn Your Tongue

Jan 20, 2012 10:01 am

The food scientist weighs in with cool solutions

Popsicles
Photo: tjstaab on Flickr
Soothe your burned mouth with a childhood standby: the popsicle.
 

Goldilocks said it best: some foods are “just right” while others are too hot. When the latter is true and foods carry too much heat, our hunger can actually get us hurt. Fairy tales aside, what happens when you burn your mouth as the result of consuming a hot food or beverage?

What happens when you burn your tongue?
No matter the type of burn, be it on your palate or your hands, the degree of damage can range in severity. Generally speaking, however, burns from pizza and other foods rarely prove more intense than first degree burns. These are often the result of scalding burns caused by hot liquids, like water or oil, and steam.

Depending on where the tongue is damaged, your ability to taste the various components of food — sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami — may be be affected, but only until your mouth has a chance to heal itself. With that in mind, it’s best to remember that the cells of the mouth, including those on the tongue, are some of the fastest healing tissues in your body. Give it a day or two and your sense of taste should be back to normal.

What foods should you avoid after burning your tongue?
Burns are like any other wound: they heal best when irritation is avoided. As such, steer clear of anything acidic like citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes or vinegar. These foods will likely irritate the burn and cause you more pain, not to mention a longer recovery time. Instead, take this opportunity to treat yourself to something more soothing, like ice cream, popsicles or cooling foods such as yogurt. 

Other, non-food remedies include local anesthetics containing menthol, a compound which acts to numb affected areas by making your tongue feel cold. Much in the same way capsaicin causes your mouth to feel hot when you consume hot peppers, menthol triggers cold-sensitive receptors on the tongue that makes it seem that the temperature has dropped a few degrees. While both spearmint and peppermint leaves contain menthol-derivatives, the concentration is not nearly high enough to lend you much relief. As always, if the pain of any burn seems too much to handle, you may want to consider seeing a doctor, just to be safe.


Read the previous installment of Food Scientist on Food Republic.

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