When is the last time you took a close look at your tongue? If the answer is “never,” then you’re not alone. Most of us catch a quick glimpse of our tongues when we brush our teeth, but that’s about it. There’s reason to take a closer look, because your tongue is telling you a whole lot about your overall health. And not just the health of your mouth – the health of your whole body, too.
Here are a few examples of tongue irregularities that might signify a potential health problem:
Odd Bumps and Lesions
If your tongue is covered with tiny nodules (known as papillae) and pink in color, that’s a good sign that it’s healthy.1 But if you see strange bumps, feel soreness, that may mean trouble. Grinding your teeth at night can make your tongue hurt, but you might also have canker sores. These are small lesions that can form under the tongue or in other areas of the mouth. Canker sores can be painful and even make it hard to talk or eat. The good news, though, is that they usually clear up on their own after a week or two.2
There are some instances, however, where a lump or odd bump on your tongue could be a sign of something more serious.3 If a bump doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if you’re concerned about it for another reason, get to a doctor or dentist to have it examined.
A bright red tongue could be a sign that you’re not getting enough vitamins in your diet – specifically, vitamin B12.4 Redness could also indicate a condition known as “geographic tongue.” This occurs when red spots form on the tongue in a pattern that looks somewhat like a map. These spots usually have white borders around them. Although geographic tongue might be somewhat unsightly, it’s harmless in most cases.5
One potentially serious reason for a red tongue is scarlet fever, which is a severe infection. If you are running a temperature and your tongue is red, you’ll need to see a doctor.6
Your Tongue Has a White Coating
Do you have white spots or a white coating on your tongue? A white tongue is usually harmless and often appears when food debris, bacteria, and dead cells build up. However, there are a couple of other reasons for a white-coated tongue.
One of them is a condition known as oral thrush. It’s caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth. Oral thrush usually affects people who have compromised immune systems, as well as people who wear dentures. You need to get this problem addressed. You don’t want to run the risk of suffering a more severe infection that could spread to other areas of your body.7
Another potential cause of a white coating on the tongue is a condition known as leukoplakia. This occurs when the mouth cells start to overgrow, causing white patches to form. Leukoplakia isn’t harmful on its own, but it could be a sign that something more serious is going on in your body.8 Schedule an appointment with your dentist if you have concerns.
Your Tongue Looks Black or Hairy
The papillae on your tongue continue to grow as the years go by. In some people, however, these nodules can become too large. When this happens, bacteria can accumulate in the grooves between the papillae, giving the tongue a dark – or even black – appearance. When papillae grow too large, they can even take on the appearance of hair. This can be scary to look at, but it’s usually not serious. It often occurs due to a lack of proper mouth hygiene, but there are many potential causes.9
Stripes on the Tongue
If you notice odd-looking stripes on your tongue, that could mean you have a condition known as oral lichen planus. This is an inflammatory issue that is often the result of a weakened immune system. In some cases, however, it can be a sign of a more serious health problem.10 Talk to your dentist about your concerns; they can determine the cause.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, it pays to take a close look at your tongue on a regular basis. Most of the reasons why your tongue might look strange are harmless. But there are times where an odd-looking tongue might signify a serious issue. Your mouth can be a window to the overall health of your body. If something doesn’t look right, talk to a medical professional as soon as you can, and schedule a thorough examination.
Want more health tips? Keep reading on the ActivatedYou blog:
10 Lifestyle Habits Destroying Good Bacteria in Your Body
Your Gluten-Free Candy Guide (a healthier option or not?)
How to Take a Detox Bath (DIY detox bath recipe included!)