Even though you focus on keeping your teeth and gums healthy, oral health includes another part of your mouth – your tongue. And your tongue can be an indicator of your oral and overall health.
Maybe you don’t pay too much attention to your tongue until you bite it or burn it by accident. Ouch! And we’ve mentioned including your tongue when you brush twice a day for at least two minutes. But other than that, this very important part of your mouth might not get noticed or discussed.
Here is some information about the color, texture and patterns on your tongue that might indicate something about your oral and overall health.
White coating – If you have dry mouth or bad oral hygiene, your tongue may appear white. The white color is the result of papillae, the tiny bumps on the surface of your tongue, becoming overgrown with a buildup of bacteria and debris from food.
Black or brown – If you smoke, your tongue could turn a black or brown tint if the overgrown papillae get stained. They could also become stained by food, drinks or medications. This dark discoloration condition even has a name – black hairy tongue. (Terrible, I know!) This condition can also be a result of poor oral hygiene, dry mouth or use of certain medications. But it can go away with good oral hygiene and by getting rid of any of the causes like tobacco use.
White patches on your tongue can be attributed to the overgrowth of yeast in your mouth, a condition called “thrush” or “candidiasis.” Those most prone to this condition include newborns, pregnant women, elderly people, dry mouth sufferers, people who wear dentures, individuals on antibiotics, people with weak immune systems and those with certain health conditions like diabetes. The usual treatment is anti-fungal medication.
White lacy pattern – If you see this pattern on your tongue or inner cheeks, it may be a sign of something called oral lichen planus. This means your immune system is fighting the cells in your mouth. You may also see sore red patches.
Yellow – A yellow tongue can be the early stages of the previously explained black or brown tongue. It could also indicate acid reflux or an infection.
Pale and smooth – If your tongue is pale, you could have low iron, or a condition called anemia.
“Strawberry” patterned – It’s called this because of the color and bumps on your tongue kind of look like a strawberry. If you notice your tongue is bumpy or swollen, it may be a sign of strep throat or an allergy, possibly to food or medicine you’re taking. There’s also a blood vessel disease called Kawasaki disease that the strawberry pattern could also be a sign of.
Next time you’re brushing your teeth, take a look at your tongue in the mirror. How does it look?
Most of these conditions can be fixed by practicing good oral hygiene, eating healthy foods, drinking more water or quitting any tobacco use. But sometimes the color of your tongue could indicate something more serious, like oral cancer or infections. Contact your dental care provider or physician if you notice one of the above colors or conditions and it doesn’t go away after a week or two. If you experience any soreness or pain, be sure to contact your dentist or doctor. A professional will be able to identify and diagnose any problems.