Your tongue is an essential organ that helps you speak, taste and chew food, swallow, and breathe. Another little-known function of the tongue involves providing clues about the state of your physical and oral health. You may not think much about your tongue, but examining it is often the first step in detecting problems-here’s what you should look for.
What does a Normal Tongue Look Like?
A normal tongue is light pink in color and is covered with thousands of tiny nodules known as papillae. It should be proportionate in size to your mouth, and contain smooth edges. A thin white coating may also be present, but should not be so thick that it causes your tongue to appear discolored. Any deviation from the norm could indicate you have one or more serious issues to contend with. Some common problems include:
- A bright red tongue is a telltale sign you have an iron or Vitamin B12 deficiency. It may also indicate a gastrointestinal disorder that may be preventing your body from properly absorbing nutrients.
- A strawberry red tongue that appears very bumpy is often a sign of scarlet fever, particularly when accompanied by a fever. In children under five, it could also indicate Kawasaki syndrome, a condition that affects the lymph nodes, arteries, and mucous membranes.
- If your tongue contains a thick white coating, the reason could be an oral yeast infection caused by an overproduction of candida. Known as thrush, it is most common after taking a round of antibiotics.
- White patches rather than a white coating is known as leukoplakia, a condition that often leads to oral cancer. This condition is especially concerning among tobacco users, who are already at an increased risk for developing oral cancer.
Changes in Surface:
- Cracks and wrinkles are a normal sign of aging, and are generally nothing to be concerned with. However, if your tongue is not as smooth as it once was, you should be extra vigilant about brushing it to eliminate food particles and bacteria that now have more places to hide.
- Rough or scalloped edges around the surface mean your body may not be absorbing nutrients properly, and that there is a high risk you have some form of toxic buildup in your system as well.
- Bumps on the end of your tongue could mean a bacterial or viral infection. Persistent red lesions should not be ignored, as they are often a precursor to cancer.
- Black or “hairy” looking tongues are actually the result of overgrown papillae, which are prone to harboring bacteria. This is a sign your oral hygiene is not up to par, so you should take measures to improve it. Note: some medications may produce hairy tongue as a side effect, in which case changes to your oral hygiene may not resolve the issue.
Aside from changes in the appearance of your tongue, you should also remain aware of any pain, burning sensations, or problems with moving this organ naturally. If you notice any usual changes in your tongue, please do not hesitate to contact us for an appointment.