Your tongue can tell you a lot about your health, so it’s essential to know the signs of an unhealthy tongue.
Your tongue can reveal a lot about your health. Covered in papillae that contain taste buds, healthy tongues are usually pink, though the exact shade of pink may vary from person to person.
Understanding the signs of unhealthy tongues (as well as what causes them) and monitoring any changes in color or texture to your tongue will let you know when it’s time to visit a dentist or doctor.
What Are Some Signs Of Unhealthy Tongues (And What Causes Them)?
Some of the most common signs of an unhealthy tongue include a pronounced color change, the development of lumps or bumps, and pain while swallowing, eating, or drinking.
If you’ve found some lacey white lines or patches across the top of your tongue, oral lichen planus might be to blame. Oral lichen planus occurs when your immune system attacks tissues in your mouth, but it will often go away on its own.
A white tongue could also indicate oral thrush. If you neglect to brush your tongue when you brush your teeth, you may experience this overgrowth of yeast. However, if the white areas are hard or flat and can’t be scraped off, you may have leukoplakia and should see a dentist as soon as possible, as leukoplakia can increase your risk of oral cancer.
Discovering hair on your tongue can be shocking, but a hairy tongue is often harmless. Common culprits behind hairy tongues include poor brushing and flossing, diabetes, chemotherapy treatments, and antibiotics.
If you’ve noticed that your tongue has become black recently, your tongue may have accumulated keratin — a fibrous protein that’s found in the skin, hair, and nails — as a result of tobacco usage, poor oral hygiene habits, or chemotherapy treatments.
If you take antacids containing bismuth or drink black tea or coffee, you may also develop a black tongue.
Having a gray tongue might be a sign of geographic tongue. It’s also associated with individuals who have eczema, as a study with 200 people with eczema discovered that 43.5% of participants also had pale or gray tongues.
A purple tongue may indicate a heart condition or poor blood circulation. However, it can also be a sign of Kawasaki disease, which inflames blood vessels and is most often found in young children.
B vitamin deficiencies, scarlet fever, and geographic tongue can also cause your tongue to take on a reddish-purplish color.
If your tongue is blue, seek medical attention. A blue tongue might signify hypoxia (a lack of oxygen in the blood), blood vessel disease, blood disorders, or kidney disease, so it’s crucial to see a professional as soon as possible.
In some cases, having a red tongue is a symptom of a minor problem. For example, if you don’t receive enough folic acid (B-9) and cobalamin (B-12), you may notice that your tongue is red rather than a healthy shade of pink. If you discover red patches framed by white borders, you may have geographic tongue, a generally harmless condition that affects less than three percent of people and may be linked to lichen planus or psoriasis.
In other cases, having a red tongue can indicate a more serious problem. If your tongue is red and looks like a strawberry, you may have scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease.
Bacterial overgrowth is often the culprit behind yellow tongues. However, smoking, psoriasis, chewing tobacco, jaundice, or taking vitamins may also be responsible for a yellow tongue.
A smooth tongue that’s also red might indicate B vitamin or iron deficiencies. Infections, certain medications, and celiac disease have also been known to cause smooth tongues.
Burning mouth syndrome can cause you to feel like you’ve burned your tongue — even when you haven’t. Burning mouth syndrome is often caused by infections, diabetes, acid reflux, or dry mouth, and it can affect your tongue, throat, lips, and gums.
Sore and Bumpy Tongue
Your tongue is packed with nerve endings, so if you drink something a little too hot or accidentally bite down on your tongue, your tongue might be sore for a few days. Having a sore or bumpy tongue might also indicate a food allergy, the development of a canker or cold sore, lichen planus, or an infection. However, if your tongue remains sore and the bumps don’t disappear within a few weeks, you may be at risk for oral cancer, so it’s best to schedule a visit with your doctor.
What Are Some Tips For Managing Symptoms Of An Unhealthy Tongue?
While the route you choose to handle your tongue’s problems will vary depending on which symptoms you have, try taking:
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics can help if your symptoms are a result of scarlet fever.
- Antifungals: If you have oral thrush, try taking antifungals pills or using an antifungal mouthwash. Fortunately, many mild cases of oral thrush will go away on their own.
- Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin B-9 Supplements: Cobalamin, or vitamin B-12, helps with everything from forming red blood cells to synthesizing and metabolizing serotonin, while Vitamin B-9, also known as folic acid, helps break down homocysteine and also assists with red blood cell formation. Since B vitamin deficiencies are a common culprit behind geographic tongue, taking B vitamin supplements is an effective treatment option.
- Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: If you’re suffering from Kawasaki disease, taking an anti-inflammatory drug might help reduce your tongue’s strawberry-like appearance.
In many cases, taking vitamin supplements, antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-inflammatory drugs is unnecessary, and you can solve the problem with better oral hygiene practices. For example, carefully brushing and flossing can often treat geographic tongue and remove oral lichen planus.
When Should I See A Dentist?
However, if any changes to your tongue’s color or texture last for longer than two weeks, it’s probably time to visit your dentist. If you’re concerned about your tongue’s health, schedule an appointment at Espire today! Espire’s offices are staffed by dental experts who specialize in treating many types of dental conditions.