What Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health

The mouth is a window into your body’s health. Changes in your teeth and other oral tissues can be signs of health issues, such as autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, and some cancers. When you stick your tongue out during an oral examination, your dentist looks into this window for several things. This includes changes in the tongue that take place with certain medical conditions. Continue reading to learn about some possible changes in your tongue to look for when brushing your teeth.

Maintaining your oral health is crucial for excellent systemic health. Schedule an appointment at Trident Dental for a comprehensive oral examination and professional teeth cleaning.

A Healthy Tongue

While everyone has a uniquely appearing tongue, healthy tongues share several common characteristics, such as:

  • Color. A healthy tongue is typically pink or a pale red color. 

  • Texture. The tongue is a muscle that is usually moist and slightly rough in texture on its top surface. This roughness is due to the many taste buds found in small bumps known as papillae. 

  • Indentations. Smooth or slightly scalloped edges can mark a healthy tongue due to the slight pressure by the teeth on its outer edges.

Common Signs of An Unhealthy Tongue

While some variations from the normal are no cause for concern, other changes in a tongue can reveal several health conditions. These changes include:

Yellow or Brown Tongue

Most cases of a yellow or brown tongue are due to the accumulation of dead cells on the tongue’s surface. Other common factors causing this discoloration include:

  • Certain foods and drinks.

  • Some vitamins.

  • Bacterial overgrowth.

  • Smoking and other tobacco products.

  • Some medical conditions such as psoriasis and jaundice.

Yellow or brown tongue rarely causes any symptoms other than halitosis.

White Tongue

A condition known as white tongue may include a thick white covering of the tongue’s surface, or it may occur in patches. It is typically benign and often resolves with lifestyle changes. Risk factors for a white tongue include:

  • Smoking.

  • Inadequate oral hygiene.

  • Taking certain medications, especially antibiotics.

  • Impaired immune system.

  • Tongue or other oral piercings.

  • Mouth trauma.

  • Some cancer treatments.

  • Dehydration.

  • Some medical conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism.

  • Iron deficiency.

  • Oral conditions, such as leukoplakia, lichen planus, geographic tongue, mouth breathing, or a yeast infection.

Bright Red Tongue

Although a healthy tongue can be more red than pink, a dark or bright red to purple tongue can be a sign of conditions, such as:

  • Kawasaki disease, a condition characterized by inflamed blood vessels.

  • Deficiency of vitamins such as folic acid, B-12, or niacin.

  • Geographic tongue.

  • Scarlet fever.

  • Allergies to certain foods and medications.

Hairy Tongue

“Hairy tongue” is a coating on the tongue’s surface that appears as hair-like projections. It can result in various colored appearances, including white, brown, pink, or black. It usually resolves without any treatment other than improved oral hygiene. Regularly brushing the top of the tongue can prevent most cases.

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If you notice any changes in your tongue, gums, or cheek, contact us for an examination and diagnosis for peace of mind and to stay healthy.

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