Say Ahhh: What Color is Your Tongue?

Categories: Blog, Dental Health

Knoxville Dentist James ErpenbachThey say that your tongue is a window to your health. If something is off inside your body, your tongue may show signs. But what kinds of signs should you be looking for when you open wide?

A Closer Look at Your Tongue

First things, first. Let’s talk about the tongue, itself.

It’s often referred to as the most powerful muscle in the body. But, it’s actually made up of 8 different muscles which all work together. Your tongue helps you form words and talk, taste food, and swallow.

A healthy tongue is pink and covered with papillae:  small nodules with taste buds on top. The average person has about 10,000 of these projections, and they’re replaced every two weeks.

Changes on Your Tongue

While discomfort characterizes some tongue conditions, many changes could go unnoticed without a quick inspection. Like for all our patients, we monitor monitor the surfaces of your mouth for any alterations, including on and around your tongue. We can help you determine which ones reflect concerns requiring further evaluation or monitoring.

Let’s explore a few color shifts that you might notice on your tongue, and what certain signs could mean:

Is Your Tongue White?

A tongue with a thick white film could indicate the following:

  • Leukoplakia:  Cells of the tongue sometimes overgrow and produce a white film or patch, especially in areas of irritation. Tobacco is a well-known irritant along with ill-fitting dentures. Leukoplakia isn’t dangerous, but it can lead to cancer in some cases. This should be evaluated.
  • Thrush:  Oral thrush, or candidiasis, is a yeast infection that can lead to excessive, thick white patches.  Babies and elderly patients sometimes get thrush, a condition that may thrive under dentures also. Diabetics, immune-compromised patients, or people using antibiotics may develop candidiasis. We can help if you’re dealing with thrush.
  • Lichen Planus: This condition has an unclear cause, but it’s marked by raised white lines interlaced on your tongue. Sometimes eliminating certain foods or improving your oral home care will bring things back to normal.

Is Your Tongue Red?

A tongue with a strong red hue could indicate the following:

  • Vitamin Deficiencies: The tongue may take on a generalized reddish appearance if you lack B-12 or folic acid.
  • Scarlet Fever:  If you come down with a high fever and a red tongue, you need to see your doctor right away.  If you have Scarlet Fever, antibiotics are required.
  • Geographic Tongue: If you notice red dots with meandering borders resembling a map, you may have this condition.  While it’s benign, certain ointments can be prescribed if it results in any discomfort.

What About Black Hairy Tongue?

Remember the papillae I mentioned earlier?  Sometimes they overgrow and become a haven for bacteria and stain.

Chemotherapy, diabetic, or antibiotic patients may also deal with black hairy tongue. While it doesn’t look pleasant and can contribute to bad breath, it rarely indicates a serious problem.

Usually better oral hygiene and tongue cleaning will take care of it, and our team can help you find a personalized strategy to deal with it.

Your Tongue Deserves Some Attention

Your tongue often reflects messages about your general health and deserves a regular examination.  While cancerous changes are rare, it’s important that discolored or irregular areas are checked.

If you notice any of these changes, be sure to schedule an exam with us. By seeing us for your regular preventive visits, we’ll help monitor your teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth lining for optimal health!