It isn't the best etiquette to stick out your tongue in public, but it is important to check on it every once in a while in the mirror. You'll know your tongue is healthy if it's clean and pink. Don't worry about the papillae, or the small bumps that gives your tongue its rough texture, as those are normal. However, if you notice any of the symptoms below you might want to look a little deeper. The way our tongues look can help signal health issues that we wouldn't have known about otherwise.
Keep in mind that these are only suggestions. A self-check is only the beginning, and if you have further concerns about any abnormalities that you see, you should visit a professional to learn how to best treat the condition. While some conditions can be cleared with simple changes such as improving your oral hygiene, others may be more serious.
Here's what a healthy tongue should look like.
Your tongue is a strong indicator of not just your oral health but your overall health. When you open your mouth, you should see a pink tongue covered with tiny bumps (papillae). The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day. Don’t forget to brush your tongue as well.
You might see white spots or maybe your whole tongue is white.
If this is true, don’t panic. It may just be a coating of bacteria, which you can change by improving your oral hygiene routine. However, if the discoloration seems to persist or you begin to feel pain, visit your doctor. You may have a yeast infection called oral thrush, or oral candidiasis, the severeness of which can depend on the strength of your immune system. In very rare cases, a white tongue can be a cancer warning sign.
Have you ever heard of geographic tongue?
This is a condition in which the tongue begins to look like a map via white or light colored borders. The exact cause is unknown, but it may be linked to psoriasis and a variety of other factors. Fortunately, it is harmless and doesn’t have any connections to infection or cancer.
A red or swollen tongue could mean one of the following.
If you notice redness or inflammation, it may be caused by a particular incident such as eating spicy or acidic foods or a bite injury. However, it could also indicate a vitamin deficiency (if you’re lacking in folic acid or vitamin B-12, this can lead to a reddish tongue), Kawasaki syndrome in younger children, or scarlet fever in children between the ages of 2 and 10.
A sore or burning sensation may be seen in postmenopausal women or those using the wrong kind of toothpaste (in this case, you can opt for a more sensitive toothpaste).
Read this if you notice any sores or lesions.
If irregular bumps, ulcers, or sores appear remain in your mouth for over 6 weeks, contact your doctor. Possible causes include infection, inflammation, or cancer. Depending on what’s going on, you may need to take antibiotics, rinse with antiseptic mouthwash, or undergo surgery.
Have a brown or black hairy tongue?
As alarming as it appears, a black or brown tongue isn’t as harmful as it looks. In many cases, it is a sign of poor oral hygiene which you can improve by drinking more water and brushing your teeth and tongue regularly. Don’t forget to floss.
If you smoke tobacco, consume plenty of coffee or tea, are taking medication with bismuth (the most popular one is Pepto-Bismol), or are undergoing chemotherapy, you may see this discoloration.
If you have a scalloped or wavy tongue, contact your doctor for a correct diagnosis.
It might not be a good sign if your tongue begins to resemble pie crust. This happens when your tongue is so enlarged or swollen that it begins to receive impressions from your teeth. Despite the discomfort it causes, this symptom is generally harmless, but it can indicate a deeper issue including but not limited to allergies, dehydration, thyroids or hypothyroids, joint syndrome, or spleen qi deficiency.
Fissures or cracks typically don't require special treatment.
Even though a fissured tongue may be unsightly, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. It is more so a variation than of a regular tongue than anything else. The most important thing is to make sure to brush so that debris isn’t caught in the cracks. If you’re concerned, see your doctor.
Keep on the lookout for tongue piercing infections.
Within the first few weeks of getting a tongue piercing, it’s completely normal to feel some swelling and irritation. However, if your tongue isn’t healed after 8 weeks, then something may be wrong.
As you’re healing, consistently check for signs of infection, which may be caused by bacteria in the mouth. These signs include excessive swelling and/or bleeding, red streaks around the piercing area, and discoloration or even discharge (if you notice extreme discoloration, visit a medical professional immediately as it may be an advanced stage of infection).
If you are thinking of getting a tongue piercing, make sure to book your appointment with a professional that takes the necessary sanitary precautions from start to finish. You must follow the aftercare instructions, especially when it comes to what foods and drinks you should avoid and regular rinsing.
Want to instantly upgrade your oral hygiene routine?
Notice someone with bad breath? Maybe it’s not their teeth but their tongue, and a tongue scraper or cleaner can really help.
As you’ve learned, the condition of your tongue is about more than just halitosis so make sure to keep it clean and regularly check for telltale signs.