While it’s no surprise that a trip to the dentist will involve an examination of your mouth, have you noticed the same holds true when visiting a doctor? One of the first things a physician will ask is for you to open up and say “aah.” He or she then proceeds to inspect your mouth, paying close attention to your tongue. That is because the tongue has a lot to say about an individual’s oral and overall health. The presence of bumps, spots, or even hair can indicate a potential problem, while discolorations and coatings may also serve as warning signs. Here are some tips to help you decipher what your tongue is telling you.
A healthy human tongue should appear pink in color, but some conditions can cause it to look more red or white. An extremely red tongue should be taken seriously, as it could indicate the onset of strep throat or scarlet fever, or a rare-but-serious illness called Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory condition that typically only affects young children. In many cases, however, redness simply indicates a deficiency of vitamins B-3, B-12, folic acid, or iron. Adding these nutrients to your diet should improve the issue.
If you find thick white patches coating your tongue, it could be a sign that proper oral hygiene is not being followed. Just like your teeth, the tongue should be brushed twice a day, but if regular brushing does not eliminate the white coating, it could indicate a yeast infection known as oral thrush. Most common in infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, oral thrush should be treated with medication before it can lead to more serious infections. Whiteness on the tongue also may develop among those with diabetes or who are taking some cancer treatments or oral steroids. There’s also a condition called leukoplakia which occurs from tongue irritation, especially from tobacco use. Leukoplakia could be an early warning sign of cancer, so be sure to make a dental appointment if you notice white patches on the tongue.
Bumps on the tongue are a common condition, and although it can be painful, there is usually little to worry about. In many cases, the bumps are an inflammation of the papillae on the tongue, the result of trauma like biting or burning. Another possibility are mouth ulcers such as canker sores. Stress, injury, and even acidic or spicy food can trigger these painful sores, but the condition should clear up within a week or two. Gargling with warm salt water may help to resolve the problem more quickly, and eating soft, cold food should provide soothing relief. If a sore spot does not improve after a couple weeks, have it examined by a dentist to rule out oral cancer, especially if it is accompanied by trouble swallowing or chewing.
Sometimes individuals are shocked to find a black and hairy tongue, although thankfully the condition is neither common nor serious. It occurs when the papillae are elongated and catch excess food particles and bacteria and is often accompanied by severe bad breath. The condition may result from excessive smoking, coffee drinking, or antibiotic use, but it should clear up with excellent oral hygiene and regular brushing.
The better you treat your mouth the better it will treat you, so be sure to brush twice a day and floss before bedtime. Good oral hygiene should keep your tongue healthy, but if you notice any potential problems, give our office a call!