Learn What Your Tongue Color Tells about Your Health

How much do you know about your tongue? Most people take their tongue for granted and do very little to help keep it clean and healthy but it is really pretty remarkable. The tongue isn’t just one muscle as it is made up of a group of muscles that enable us to talk and to taste and swallow food. A healthy tongue is pink and is covered with lots of small bumps calledlingual papillae.

Why We Should Pay Attention to Tongue Health

Most of take it for granted that our tongue will work and function properly and it can be frustrating and uncomfortable if you begin to experience problems. The good news is that most of the time these issues are not serious, even though they may look alarming and can soon be resolved. Sometimes a discolored or painful tongue can indicate more serious issues which may include vitamin deficiencies, oral cancer or AIDS. This is unlikely but does highlight the need to get any changes to your tongue thoroughly investigated.

What Does a White Tongue Indicate?


A tongue can develop white spots or a white colored coating for a number of reasons. One condition is called leukoplakia which causes an overgrowth of cells, which in turn will cause white patches to begin forming. This condition is not dangerous but can sometimes indicate early changes to the cells in the mouth so it is important to get it investigated. Leukoplakia is more likely to develop as an adverse effect of smoking or if the tongue is irritated.

Yeast Infection

Oral thrush can also cause white patches on the tongue and is due to a yeast infection. The patches almost have the consistency of cottage cheese and it can affect other surfaces in the mouth. Oral thrush tends to develop more frequently in the very old or very young, or in anyone with a weakened immune system.

Oral Lichen Planus

Oral lichen planus creates white, raised lines on the tongue that may appear almost lacy. This condition will often clear up without any intervention and the cause can be difficult to determine.

Conditions Associated with  a Red Tongue

A normally pink tongue can sometimes turn red and the papillae may become raised, causing it to take on a strawberry-like appearance as the taste buds enlarge. This can be due to vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiencies or it might have another cause. Geographic tongue can create a map-like appearance of red patches on the tongue surface and these might even have a white border around them. While this might look alarming, geographic tongue is generally harmless but you should contact the Cosmetic Dentistry Center Brooklyn if the patches last any longer than two weeks as we will want to make a proper diagnosis. If the condition causes discomfort then it is possible for us to prescribe topical medications to soothe the tongue.

There is another condition which causes the tongue to become black and hairy which although alarming isn’t serious. It is caused by the papillae becoming overgrown and harboring bacteria and is more likely to occur in those with poor oral hygiene, who are diabetic or on antibiotics or who are receiving chemotherapy.

Looking after Your Tongue

The surface of your tongue does harbor lots of bacteria so it is nice to keep it clean. You can help keep your tongue clean and fresh by gently brushing it each day, either with a proper tongue scraper or tongue brush or just with a soft toothbrush. This will remove excess bacteria and food debris, helping to keep your mouth clean and your breath fresh.

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