Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A tongue biopsy is performed when a lesion on or under your tongue warrants further examination. As part of a complete dental exam, your dentist or dental hygienist will check the soft tissues and mucous membranes in your mouth — including your tongue — for abnormalities or signs of oral cancer. Very often, if a tongue lesion is present, your dentist may want to recheck the area in a week or two to rule out infection or trauma as the cause. If the area remains suspicious, then a referral to an oral surgeon for a tongue biopsy is indicated.

What Happens During a Tongue Biopsy?

Like any biopsy, this minor surgery provides a specialist with a sample for microscopic examination. A numbing agent like a local anesthesia is usually sufficient for the procedure, but in some cases, the biopsy is done using general anesthesia. A portion of the tongue is removed and examined under a microscope to determine the type of cells causing the abnormality.

What to Expect During a Tongue Biopsy

Once your dentist refers you to an oral surgeon for the tongue biopsy, the oral surgeon’s office will explain the prep and post-procedural expectations. As mentioned earlier, in most cases the biopsy is performed under local anesthesia using an injection to numb the area. Depending on the nature of the lesion, the surgeon will completely remove the area (called an excisional biopsy) or opt to remove a small portion (an incisional biopsy), defines the University of Pennsylvania. If sutures are needed to close the incision, they usually dissolve in 10 days to two weeks, and the procedure should take less than half an hour to complete. Meanwhile, your tissue sample will be sent to a lab for diagnosis to determine the pathology.

According to the British Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons, once the anesthesia wears off, you can expect little to no pain. However, if pain relief is needed, usually over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen should do the trick. There could be slight swelling or discomfort in the area, but it should subside within a few days. Bleeding should be minimal, especially if sutures are used, but if the area continues to bleed or ooze, applying pressure with a washcloth, gauze or cotton swab for 10 minutes should stop the bleeding. You will be able to resume eating, brushing and flossing normally on the same day as the procedure, taking care not to bite or irritate the area. You should be able to return to work or school the next day. Your oral surgeon will also schedule you for a follow-up visit to check the area and discuss results a week or two after the procedure.

Taking care of your general health includes routine dental visits to check the teeth and soft tissues for signs of disease or abnormalities. Since even experienced practitioners have difficulty distinguishing between innocuous changes and serious conditions involving the tongue, oral tissue biopsies are necessary to rule out dysplasia or early invasive oral cancer. Talk to your dentist about what you can do to maintain a healthy mouth, from teeth to tongue.