How the Color of Your Tongue Can Be the First Sign of Health Problems

How the Color of Your Tongue Can Be the First Sign of Health Problems

Are you healthy? Just look at your tongue, and you might have the answer. 

While your tongue isn’t as good as an annual checkup, it does hold some answers regarding your health. Grab a mirror and check out your tongue to see if it looks healthy or if you’ve got some issues to resolve.

Pink Tongue

If your tongue is pink, that’s a good thing. A healthy tongue normally has a pinkish hue and is covered with tiny bumps called papillae. The papillae are each covered with taste buds that appear relatively smooth and uniform.

White Tongue

If your tongue looks white or there are white spots on it, you could have a couple different conditions.

Thrush: Oral thrush is a condition that develops in the mouth and throat. It typically looks like thick, white patches and is more common in infants and the elderly. Thrush can be brought on by a weakened immune system, wearing dentures, using asthma inhalers, or taking antibiotics. This is typically not a serious condition and can be cleared rather quickly with medication.

Leukoplakia: This condition happens when the cells in the mouth grow too quickly and form white patches. Leukoplakia is not a dangerous condition, but it can be a precursor to cancer and deserves a trip to the doctor or your dentist. People who use tobacco products are most at risk for leukoplakia.

Oral lichen planus: Oral lichen planus is a series of white, raised lines on the tongue that resemble lace. There isn’t a specific cause for this condition, but it tends to resolve itself over time and appears relatively harmless but may cause a burning sensation.

Red Tongue

A red tongue is a little tricky because natural red in many foods or red food dye is easily transferred to the tongue. Make sure you’re not checking your tongue after eating something red. If you do determine your tongue is unnaturally red, then the following conditions could be to blame.

Vitamin deficiency: Having a bright red tongue can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency, as it often means you’re lacking in vitamin B12. Eating more foods that contain B12 like beef, liver, chicken, shellfish, fish, eggs, and some low-fat dairy can help. If that doesn’t seem to help, a supplement is a good solution.

Geographic tongue: This is an interesting condition as it’s characterized by red patches with a white border. They can be in different places on your tongue and can appear and disappear without warning. It’s typically a harmless condition and nothing to worry about.

Scarlet fever: If you notice red and bumpy appearance on your tongue and feel as if you have a high fever, medical attention is necessary as it’s very possible you have scarlet fever. A course of antibiotics is a typical treatment.

Kawasaki disease: Another condition where a bumpy, red tongue is a key sign. Kawasaki syndrome is often seen in children under the age of five and also features a high fever. This is a very serious condition and requires immediate medical attention.

Black Tongue

While a black tongue can be disturbing, the condition that causes it can also make it look hairy, which can be quite frightening. The good news is that black hairy tongue is not typically dangerous. 

This condition arises when excess bacteria is allowed to grow in the mouth. It’s the bacteria that looks dark or black, and the papillae tend to look hair-like. Good dental hygiene is the best way to clear up this condition. Black hairy tongue is most often associated with poor oral hygiene, smoking, diabetes, taking antibiotics, and chemotherapy.

It should be noted that black tongue can also occur if you’re taking any medication that includes bismuth.

Yellow Tongue

A yellowish tongue is often a precursor to black tongue. This is harmless, but there’s a buildup of skin cells caught in the papillae. Upping the game when it comes to oral hygiene is the best way to resolve this condition.

Bumpy Tongue

If your tongue looks bumpy and feels sore yet appears to retain its pink color, there are a few different conditions that could be the cause.

Trauma: Biting your tongue or burning it can lead to a bump and/or a painful spot. This is a very common situation and will heal on its own over time.

Smoking: Smoking is an irritant and can cause your tongue to react with bumps and painful spots. 

Canker sores: These mouth ulcers occur for most people at least once in their lives, and quite often the cause is unknown. Typically, they resolve themselves in a week or two, but if you have a prolonged sore in your mouth, it’s best to seek medical treatment.

Oral cancer: If a canker sore or any irritation in your mouth persists for a couple weeks or longer, it’s time to see your doctor to check for oral cancer

Living Well

Your tongue isn’t quite the window to your health, but it does have a lot to say. 

It’s a good idea to check your tongue out at least once a day, during your early morning or evening tooth brushing routine is a good time. If you see anything abnormal on your tongue, it could be a sign of a health condition.

Luckily, most of the conditions you will come across are relatively harmless, some clear up on their own, and some need minor medical attention and perhaps a round of antibiotics. But your tongue health is nothing to take lightly. 

Oral cancer is often first noticed by an irregular patch on your tongue or in your mouth that doesn’t go away. In the early stages, mouth cancer is often noticeable upon inspection but not painful. Like most cancer, early detection is key to prompt treatment and full remission. If you think you might have oral cancer, it’s best to see your doctor right away so you can be proactive about treatment.