As a kid, we used it to express our displeasure with something or someone. We often use it to wipe up dripping ice cream cones. And it’s a great taste tester to help us ward off bitter foods.
What is it? Our tongue. And without it, we couldn’t eat or talk.
But did you know the tongue can also give your dentist clues about your oral health? In fact, you might even be surprised about what your tongue can actually reveal about your overall health too.
What Your Tongue Can Tell About Your Health
When you visit your doctor, you’ll get the request to say, “Ahhhhhhh!” and one of the first things your dentist checks is all sides of your tongue. Why? It’s with good reason. A healthy tongue has a warm, pinkish color, and anything different might indicate an underlying health condition.
So what exactly does your tongue reveal about your health? Here are some of the most common tongue-related conditions and what they indicate.
If your tongue is red
A red tongue could be telling you about:
Vitamin deficiency -a red tongue could be a sign of B vitamin deficiency, specifically vitamin B-12 or folic acid (B-9). A simple blood test can help you determine whether your levels are sufficient or not.
Geographic tongue – if you see red patches with white borders on your tongue, this could be a sign of a condition called geographic tongue. It has a map-like appearance which is how it gets its name. This usually harmless condition affects 1 to 3 percent of people.
Kawasaki disease – this is a more serious condition that’s more common in children under the age of five. It causes a high fever along with a strawberry-like appearance on the tongue. This condition is serious and requires immediate medical attention.
If your tongue has white spots or a white coating
White patches or spots on your tongue are one of the most common issues that affect otherwise healthy tongues. Some of the causes include:
Oral thrush – this is a yeast infection that develops in the mouth. Called Candida albicans fungus, it creates thick, white cottage cheese-like patches on top of the tongue as well as the insides of your cheeks. Oral thrush is most commonly found in infants and the elderly, or in people with weak immune systems.
Leukoplakia – this condition also causes thick white patches in the mouth and tongue. However, unlike the fungus that causes oral thrush, leukoplakia is caused by an overgrowth of cells in your mouth. It’s often found in the mouths of smokers and can be a precursor to cancer. A dentist can diagnose this condition.
If your tongue is bumpy or sore
A sore or bumpy tongue can be due to:
Food allergy – allergic reactions to food can cause bumps on the tongue or make it swell. If there is a sudden, immediate swelling of the whole tongue, this could be a sign of a dangerous reaction known as anaphylaxis. This requires immediate medical attention.
Canker sores – though the cause is unknown, many people develop canker sores. Stress is believed to be a factor, and the good news is that canker sores normally heal without treatment within a week or two.
Oral cancer – if you have a lump or sore on your tongue that doesn’t go away within two weeks, this could be a sign of oral cancer. Not all cases of oral cancer cause pain, so see a doctor right away if any lumps persist.
If your tongue is hairy
Yes, this sounds weird, but sometimes a protein build-up can cause small bumps to become elongated, trapping food. This results in what looks like strands of hair on your tongue.
In some people, they become too long, which makes them more likely to harbor bacteria. This condition is not common and it’s also not typically serious. It’s seen mostly in those who don’t practice good oral hygiene.
Listen to Your Tongue!
What your tongue can tell you about your health is plenty, so be sure to listen. We recommend you check your tongue daily when you brush and floss your teeth. Any lumps, sores, discoloration, or pain should be evaluated by a health care professional if they don’t go away within two weeks.
Worried about your tongue or just need to schedule a dental check-up? Give us a call to schedule your appointment today.