Understanding Tongue Health

Oral hygiene is often overlooked. People brush improperly, forget to floss daily, and put off going to the dentist. But you only have one mouth, and taking care of it is important!

For instance, when was the last time you thought of your tongue? Your tongue is a huge part of oral hygiene, and is rarely talked about. People often forget that it needs to be cleaned and cared for, just like teeth. Not only that, the tongue can actually be a big indicator of oral and general health, and shouldn’t be ignored. So next time you’re brushing your teeth, stick your tongue out and take a look. An unnatural coating or texture could indicate a possible illness or condition.

  • White Coating or Spots- If you see a coating or collection of white spots, this is could be a symptom of Oral Thrush, a yeast infection that develops in the mouth, and usually has the consistency of cottage cheese. Oral Thrush most commonly affects infants and the elderly, and is typically very treatable with an antifungal rinse regimen or a pill. It may also be Leukoplakia, which develops when the tongue is irritated. For people who use tobacco, it can be a precursor to cancer, but that isn’t always the case. If you see white patches, be sure to contact your dentist for a check up.
  • Bright Red Tongue- A red tongue can be a symptom of several different things. It may indicate a simple B-12 or Folic acid deficiency, which is nothing to worry about. However, it may indicate more serious conditions, such as Scarlet Fever, Strep, or Kawasaki disease. If your red tongue is accompanied by a fever, you should go get it checked out by a doctor.
  • Black and Hairy Tongue- Your tongue is covered with papillae, small structures that give it its rough appearance. And similarly to hair, papillae grow constantly. In some cases, they become too long, and can harbor excess bacteria. This is often a symptom of poor oral hygiene, however, it is also known to occur concurrently with antibiotics, chemo, or diabetes.
  • Red and White Spots- Have you ever eaten too much of a sour candy? Taken a bite of pizza fresh out of the oven, or sipped hot coffee too soon? Then you know the pain of wearing down your tastebuds or just plain burning them. Don’t worry, they’ll grow back.
  • Webbed or Striped Look- If you can see a webbed or striped pattern, it is often a chronic condition called Oral Lichen Planus. This is caused by your immune system attacking your cells. Oral Lichen Planus can result in oral discomfort, such as an itchy or painful sensation. While there is no cure, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms, such as antihistamines or steroids.
  • Bumps– Bumps on the tongue can mean several things, ranging in severity. If they’re ridges along the front, you’re probably just pushing your tongue against your teeth when you sleep, nothing to worry about. Small white bumps can be canker sores and, while painful, will go away on their own. Typically caused by stress, biting, or smoking, you can try some at-home remedies such as gargling warm salt water. A larger bump that doesn’t seem to go away could be more serious. It may be cancerous, and should be checked out by a doctor.

 

Your tongue is an extremely important indicator of oral health. So be sure to take care of it! Brush it just like you brush your teeth, and monitor any adverse conditions. Any discoloration, lumps or more should be kept track of. If they don’t go away on their own within two weeks, you should speak with a medical professional.