When you look in the mirror and notice a different pattern, texture, or color on your tongue it can be alarming. After doing some research, it becomes quite clear that differences in our tongue can indicate some pretty serious conditions and diseases.

Tongues provide clues for overall body health, and certain indicators merit more medical attention than others. Changes from white, red, or even black discoloration to a burning sensation on the tongue can give us insight on our oral and overall health. The following tongue symptoms are common indicators that can help you assess your total personal health.

White coating or white spots on tongue

A white coating or white spots on the tongue can indicate a number of things. Oral thrush, leukoplakia, and oral lichen planus are a few examples. Each has specific signs to look for, here’s what you need to know:

Leukoplakia may happen when cells in your mouth grow excessively, leading to white patches on the tongue or elsewhere in the mouth. Leukoplakia flares can occur after various types of irritation, but tobacco products are a common risk factor associated with the condition. In some cases, leukoplakia is a forerunner to cancer, but it isn’t inherently unsafe by itself. Dangerous cases of leukoplakia are usually identified by your dentist during regular bi-annual cleanings.

Oral Thrush
Oral thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth that first appears as white patches that often develop and thicken to the consistency of cottage cheese. Infants and the elderly are more at risk of developing oral thrush, but anyone can contract the infection, especially those with weakened immune systems. One of the most common times oral thrush occurs is after a stint of antibiotics.

Oral Lichen Planus
Oral lichen planus usually produces a web of raised white lines on your tongue. Sometimes the texture is almost lacey texture. This condition is more unpredictable than other causes of white tongue and most health professionals have a difficult time pinpointing the cause. Fortunately, these breakouts typically go away on after a few weeks without treatment.

Bright red tongue

Bright red tongues usually indicate overall health issues or nutrient deficiencies. For example, a lack of folic acid or vitamin B-12 can turn your tongue a reddish color. more serious causes of bright red tongue include the following:

Scarlet Fever
Scarlet fever is an infection that leaves strawberry-like bumps on the tongue and is usually accompanied by high fever and a red rash. To treat scarlet fever, you must see a doctor for antibiotics.

Geographic Tongue
When patches of papillae are missing on the tongue those areas feel smooth. The patches of bumpy and bumpless tongue are called geographic tongue. Usually, each patch has a white border around it, but they can appear anywhere on the tongue.

Kawasaki Disease
Kawasaki disease is a more serious condition that requires immediate attention for optimal chance of survival. This condition causes an inflammation in the walls of some blood vessels, and on the tongue, a strawberry-like breakout occurs. Most patients with Kawasaki disease are 5-years-old or younger, and the condition is always accompanied by high fever.

Black, brown, or dark red tint

Everyone has papillae. They are most present on the sides and tip of the tongue, but all those tiny bumps throughout your mouth are papillae. Similar to hair, the papillae on your tongue continue to grow throughout your life. Some people have papillae that grow excessively large, making it easy for bacteria to build up between them.

This bacteria growth usually leaves a dark brown or red tint on the tongue. In some cases, the discoloration is even black and appears hair-like. Although disturbing at first, this condition usually isn’t serious and is more likely to occur in people who don’t practice good dental hygiene. If you have diabetes, receive chemotherapy, or are taking antibiotics, a black or darkened tongue may be the result.

Soreness or Bumps

Discoloration in the tongue can be concerning, but it isn’t as big of a hindrance as tongue bumps or soreness can be. This is especially true when the bumps are located in places that easily catch on teeth, causing them to swell more. Trauma, canker sores, smoking, and oral cancer are common causes of tongue soreness and bumps. Here’s what you need to know:

When you accidentally bite your tongue or burn it on something hot, the tongue typically stays pretty sore and may even become inflamed until it heals. Habits like teeth grinding or clenching can also lead to tongue trauma, mostly on the sides resulted in long-term soreness.

Canker sores
Canker sores, also known as mouth ulcers, develop from time to time and usually go away without treatment after a week or two. Health professionals haven’t identified the exact cause of canker sores, but many people believe that stress can be a factor.

Smoking can also lead to tongue soreness. In some cases, stopping smoking can lead to a sore tongue too. Smokers are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer and should commit to regular screenings.

Oral cancer
The most serious soreness and bumps are caused by oral cancer. If you notice a bump or bumps on the back, side, under, or top of your tongue, make an appointment with your dentist for a screening. Oral cancer screenings should be done regardless of sores or pain and are recommended once a year.

Most of these causes of tongue discoloration or soreness can be prevented with good teeth cleaning habits. Also, remember to brush the tongue every day to remove odor-causing germs and to prevent bacteria from building up. It’s important for you and your dentist to pay attention to the signals our bodies give us to kick bodily harboring diseases or conditions before they set in.


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