What Can Your Tongue Tell You About Your Health?

Whether it’s too red, too white, or even too hairy, find out what your tongue can say about your oral (and even overall) health!

woman sticking out tongue

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It goes without saying that your tongue plays a vital role in tasting and swallowing food, but it can also give your dentist clues to both your oral and overall health. Here are some examples:

Red Tongue

An overly red tongue typically indicates a vitamin deficiency (folic acid, B-12, etc). Leafy greens and citrus fruits are rich in folic acid, while B-12 can be found in meat and dairy. For those who avoid animal products and are B-12 deficient, consider taking an oral supplement. A red tongue can also be tied to strep throat or scarlet fever, in which case a visit to the doctor for an antibiotic prescription is in order!

Geographic Tongue

An inflammatory but harmless condition, this causes a map-like pattern of patches to appear on the surface of your tongue. Typically red in color and with slightly raised borders, these patches may look strange, but it’s a largely benign issue aside from causing slight discomfort or sensitivity. However, if these patches linger for more than a couple of weeks, give your dentist a call.

White Patches

Tobacco use can lead to a condition called Leukoplakia, which causes the appearance of white patches on the tongue. While not necessarily dangerous on its own, Leukoplakia can sometimes be a precursor to cancer. We know it’s easier said than done, but still: quit smoking! 

White patches may also appear due to oral thrush, a yeast infection often seen in infants, the elderly (particularly those who wear dentures), and people with weakened immune systems.

Sore or Sensitive Tongue

Having an overly sensitive tongue often indicates a food allergy or the development of a canker sore. There are many other potential causes as well, including accidentally biting/burning your tongue while eating. The sides of your tongue can also become irritated and painful if you tend to grind or clench your teeth.

Hairy Tongue

Okay, this might be the weirdest one, but the appearance of a dark, furry surface on your tongue is a benign, temporary condition. It’s usually caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on papillae that grow longer than normal instead of shedding naturally. These unusually long papillae then become discolored by food, bacteria, etc. Good oral hygiene is typically enough to deal with this issue, so make sure you have a tongue scraper handy!

If you’re worried that you have a serious oral issue of any kind, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your dentist to figure out your next steps. Some of the issues listed above are benign, but a check-up wouldn’t be a bad idea if they are unusually persistent. Better safe than sorry! Early prevention is vital in maintaining your oral health and comfort.

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