When it comes to oral hygiene, people often make the mistake of neglecting their tongue. Your tongue is a highly sensitive and valuable tool that is just as susceptible to damage, infection, or dysfunction as your gums and teeth. Several conditions can affect your tongue if you don’t care for it properly.
These conditions can not only have severe implications on your life such as not being able to enjoy certain foods anymore but they can also result in more damaging health issues. To save your precious taste buds, here’s everything you need to know about having a healthy tongue.
What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?
Did you know your dentist examines your tongue for the first signs of oral cancer? An unhealthy tongue can also show changes, such as pain, lumps, and changes in color. To prevent serious health complications, it’s important to understand what a healthy tongue looks like.
A healthy tongue is pink with some dark and light shades. It’s relatively moist compared to the rest of the mouth and has decent flexibility. Another way to test your tongue is by pinching your nose and tasting things. If you can taste what you’re eating, that means your taste buds are working fine.
Unhealthy Tongue: Different Tongue Color Meaning
Unhealthy tongues can be identified by their color, surface texture, and moistness. Different colors indicate different underlying conditions or causations.
If Your Tongue Has a White Coating or White Spots
If you have thick white patches on your tongue, it’s usually nothing to worry about. But in some cases, it may require medical attention to treat. Here are some common factors that can cause white patches on your tongue.
Oral thrush is a form of yeast infection that can grow on your tongue. It creates thick white patches on the surface of your tongue and can also grow on the insides of your cheeks. It’s usually common in groups with low immunity such as infants, toddlers, senior citizens, and diabetic patients.
Oral Lichen Planus
Oral lichen planus is a relatively harmless inflammatory condition. It affects the mucous membranes inside your mouth and creates white stripes on the surface of your tongue that mildly resemble fungus. This condition can go away without treatment, although as it can get tricky to distinguish, it’s important to get a diagnosis first.
Leukoplakia is a condition that forms thickened white patches on the gums, the bottom of the mouth, and the tongue. It causes cell overgrowth in your mouth, and while most cases are benign, some may be an early indication of cancer.
Leukoplakia is usually caused by the consumption of tobacco products. If your tongue starts forming white patches that don’t go away after scraping, it’s advisable to seek a professional diagnosis.
If Your Tongue Is Red
Scarlet fever is a bacterial condition that affects the throat and mouth and develops in people who have strep throat. It’s a very rare condition. One of the key signs is a bright red rash on the majority of the body including the tongue. You may also develop large bumps on your tongue.
A strawberry red tongue may be an early sign of Kawasaki disease. It is a rare and serious condition that causes the inflammation of blood vessels all over the body and is accompanied by a high fever. It’s a condition that’s most common in toddlers.
Geographic tongue is a common condition that causes map-like red patterns to form on the tongue, hence the name. The red patches look like countries on a map and can change in location, size, and shape. It’s a harmless condition that generally disappears with time without treatment.
Vitamin B Deficiency
Redness on the tongue can also be brought on by a deficiency of Vitamin B-12 and B-9. Once you take the required supplements or simply change your diet, the redness will subside on its own.
If Your Tongue Is Black and Hairy
If you’ve got a hair-like coating on your tongue that looks black and brown, you probably have a condition called hairy tongue. Except, they’re not really hair; they’re proteins that turn small regular bumps across your tongue into long strands. Food and bacteria tend to get caught in these strands but you can remove them by scraping your tongue.
The blackness may be a side-effect of medication that you’re currently on. Antacids, for instance, have an ingredient called bismuth that is known to cause black stains. Hairy tongue is harmless and goes away with time once your medication cycle has ended.
If Your Tongue Is Sore or Bumpy
Soreness and bumps are a common occurrence and usually occur due to bacterial or viral infections. They can often be harmful and eventually go away unless you have oral cancer.
Tongue soreness or bumpiness may result from the following:
#1. Tobacco consumption (smoking or chewing)
#2. Canker sores
#3. Accidental tongue biting
#4. Mouth cancer
#5. Trauma, such as scalding
What Causes an Unhealthy Tongue?
An unhealthy tongue is often the result of neglect but can also be brought on by various other causes.
#1. Not cleaning or brushing regularly.
#2. Not visiting the dentist at least twice a year.
#3. Tobacco consumption.
#4. Unhealthy diet.
#5. Not staying hydrated.
What Should You Do If You Do Not Have a Healthy Tongue?
If you suspect you do not have a healthy tongue, the first thing to do is to visit your dentist. Your tongue may just need proper cleaning but it’s always better to get a professional opinion.
If you’re a smoker, it is crucial that you practice keeping your tongue clean. You can use your brush to clean your teeth or purchase a special scraper. Here are some other factors to consider:
#1. Quit smoking
#2. Get plenty of rest and exercise
#3. Improve your diet
#4. Stay hydrated
#5. Visit your dentist more often
When To See a Doctor
If you’re ever experiencing painful swelling or a burning sensation, you should visit your physician. These are often signs of oral cancer or some rare underlying condition.
If your tongue does not fit the description of a healthy tongue, as provided in this blog, you need to start practicing self-care. And it’s still recommended that you visit a dentist or a physician for a proper diagnosis, even if the symptoms are mild.
7 Tips To Keep Your Tongue Healthy
#1. Eat foods with anti-microbial properties like onions, garlic, etc.
#2. Eat foods that are rich in iron like spinach and meat.
#3. Make sure you’re drinking at least 3 liters of water a day.
#4. Purchase a quality tongue cleaner and use it every time you brush your teeth.
#5. Brush and floss your teeth regularly and use a mouthwash.
#6. Avoid Smoking.
#7. Visit your dentist for regular dental check-ups and teeth cleanings.