You may have heard from your family dentist in Ashland that it’s important to brush your tongue as well as your teeth. This is because bacteria can accumulate on your tongue just as easily as your teeth and gums, and cause seriously bad breath. But did you know that your tongue can tell you a lot more about your oral health than whether your breath stinks? That’s right, the state of your tongue can be indicative of several other health conditions. Read on to learn what they are.
White Coating or White Spots on Your Tongue
A white tongue, or white patches on your tongue, could mean:
A mild yeast infection inside the mouth, manifesting as white patches with the consistency of cottage cheese. It’s most common in babies and the elderly, especially denture wearers, and those with weakened immune systems. You may also develop it after you’ve taken antibiotics.
A condition where mouth cells grow excessively, leading to white patches in the mouth. It’s often seen in people who smoke or chew tobacco. Leukoplakia isn’t necessarily a precursor to cancer, but if you think you have it, contact your dentist for an evaluation.
Oral Lichen Planus
A network of raised white lines on the tongue that look kind of like lace. This condition typically resolves itself after some time.
A red tongue could be indicative of:
Lack of sufficient vitamin B-12 and folic acid may cause your tongue to turn red.
A serious infection that makes your tongue take on a strawberry-like (bumpy and red) appearance. If your red tongue is accompanied by a high fever, see your family doctor. You’ll need antibiotics to treat scarlet fever.
A condition that causes a network of reddish spots to appear on your tongue. Their location on your tongue may shift over time. The condition is usually harmless.
Black and Hairy Tongue
The little bumps on your tongue, called papillae, grow throughout your lifetime, much like your hair. For some people, they grow excessively long, making them more likely to accumulate bacteria. When these bacteria grow, they may look dark or black, and the overgrown papillae might resemble hair. Luckily, this condition is usually harmless and resolved with better oral hygiene. People with diabetes, taking antibiotics, or undergoing chemotherapy may also develop a black and hairy tongue.
Sore or Bumpy Tongue
Painful bumps on your tongue could be due to:
Chowing down on food fresh out of the oven, or accidentally biting your tongue, can result in a sore tongue until it heals.
Smoking irritates your tongue, which can result in soreness.
Mouth ulcers that most people develop on their tongue at some point or other. The exact cause is unknown, but stress is thought to be a factor. They also usually heal on their own.
A lump or sore on your tongue that doesn’t go away within two weeks could be an indication of oral cancer. Many kinds of oral cancer don’t hurt in the beginning stages, so don’t assume that because there is no pain, that nothing is wrong.
Your dentist says that you should not only brush your tongue as part of your oral hygiene routine, but give it a thorough once-over every day too. Any discoloration, sores, lumps, or other abnormalities that don’t resolve themselves within a couple of weeks should be reported to your dentist.
About the Author
Dr. Trevor Peterson is a family dentist in Ashland who earned his doctorate from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He enjoys helping people smile confidently, and part of that includes having a healthy-looking tongue. If you notice anything strange about your tongue, contact Dr. Peterson’s office to schedule an appointment.