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What Your Tongue Says about Your Health:
Nine "Tongue Signs" to Watch Out For

The tongue is an incredibly important muscle that helps you to chew and swallow food, taste (the average tongue has about 9,000 taste buds) and speak. When it's healthy, your tongue should be slightly pink in color, moist, and fairly smooth. However, if your tongue is dry, coated, discolored or painful, it could indicate a problem.

healthy tongue

A healthy tongue should be pink, moist and fairly smooth.

Tongue Problems to Watch Out For

A change in the appearance or feeling of your tongue could be related to the tongue itself or another problem within your body. Meanwhile, some tongue changes are harmless while others may indicate health issues are present. Here are some common tongue scenarios, along with what they may be telling you.

  • Hairy Tongue: If the papillae (small bumps) that cover the surface of your tongue become enlarged and profuse, it can make the tongue appear hairy or furry. This is harmless (but if the appearance is bothersome antibiotics are sometimes given).

  • Geographic Tongue: This condition is characterized by smooth, bright red patches on the top of the tongue. The patches can change size and location from day to day (and have a map-like, or geographic, appearance). There may also be some soreness or burning. This condition is also harmless and usually resolves on its own in a few months (it's sometimes triggered by stress, hormonal changes or allergies).

  • Fissured Tongue: This is another harmless condition in which deep grooves form on the tongue's surface. In fact, fissured tongue is an inherited trait that normally occurs in 10 percent of population.

  • Black Tongue: A black, coated tongue can result from an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the mouth, which then accumulate on the papillae and cause discoloration. This is a harmless condition that can usually be resolved by brushing your tongue with a toothbrush twice a day. Rinsing your mouth with diluted hydrogen peroxide can also help remove the discoloration.

  • Smooth, Pale Tongue: A smooth tongue can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin B-12 deficiency. It can also be an indicator of anemia.

hairy tongue

A black, hairy tongue is a harmless condition caused by enlarged papillae and an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth.

  • Canker Sores on the Tongue: A viral ulcer or "canker sore" may appear on the tongue. These can be painful but will go away on their own. Canker sores can appear for apparently no reason, though some doctors believe they are triggered by stress and fatigue.

  • Enlarged/Swollen Tongue: A swollen tongue can be caused by a number of disorders, including strep infection, Down's syndrome, leukemia, cancer, and hypothyroidism. It can also be a minor side effect due to a hangover or an allergic reaction to food or medication.

  • Red Tongue: If your tongue is red (from dark pink to magenta) it could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, particularly that you may not be getting enough folic acid, vitamin B-12 or vitamin B3.

  • White Tongue: A white coating on your tongue could mean that you are dehydrated. It can also be caused by smoking or drinking alcohol. A white coating can also be a sign of thrush, which is an infection of the mouth with the yeast Candida albicans.

How to Keep Your Tongue Healthy

To keep your tongue clean and healthy, along with brushing your teeth regularly experts recommend using a tongue scraper twice a day. Tongue scrapers are inexpensive, and it takes only about 10 or 15 seconds to do: just slide the scraper gently over your tongue (you don't need to press hard!), repeat three or four times to reach the entire surface, and you're done.

Recommended Reading

What to Do if Your Teeth Get Knocked Out (and 9 MORE Important Injury Tips)

The 11 Signals Your Nails are Giving You About Your Health


Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia

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