Oral Health Watch: Heed the Color of Your Tongue

Did you know that your tongue can forecast your oral health?

tongue oral health Utah

If you’re like most people, you don’t look at your tongue very often. So open wide and take a peek now. A normal, healthy tongue is pink, and it may have a thin, pale white coating. If yours looks different, it could be a sign of a health problem.

What is the color of your tongue telling you?

Oral Health Problems Associated with a White Tongue

An occasional white tongue can be the result of irritation or inflammation of the papillae, the tiny bumps that cover the surface. Dehydration or dry mouth is typically the cause, and poor oral hygiene may also play a part in some cases.

If your tongue has patches of white here and there, you could have a condition called thrush. Thrush is a type of oral yeast infection that sometimes result from a weakened immune system. Taking antibiotics can also lead to a thrush infection.

White patches that don’t rub off could indicate a health problem called leukoplakia. This condition is most often seen in patients who smoke or use tobacco. Though most cases do not pose a serious health risk, leukoplakia may be a potential precursor to oral cancer.

Oral Health Problems Associated with a Red Tongue

A bright-red tongue usually indicates that your body is lacking in vitamin B12, iron or folic acid. But the color may also be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as strep throat, scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease.

A red patch could mean that you have geographic tongue, a harmless condition that usually resolves on its own. Don’t be tempted to ignore red patches, however, as they can also be erythroplakia lesions, which may be a symptom of oral cancer.

Oral Health Problems Associated with a Black Tongue

A black tongue may look rather unsightly, but the color doesn’t usually indicate a health problem. In most cases, the black shade results from too much bacteria growth in the mouth. The bacteria build up on the papillae, causing them to darken and develop a hairy appearance.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes a black or hairy-looking tongue. The condition may be linked to certain medications, including some antibiotics and drugs that contain bismuth, like Pepto-Bismol. Having dry mouth, smoking and regularly using astringent mouthwash may also cause your tongue to turn black. In many cases, however, the likely culprit is poor oral hygiene habits.

If you notice a change in the color of your tongue, it’s important that you see an oral surgeon immediately. Trust your oral health to the experienced professionals at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah. Call one of our convenient Salt Lake City-area offices to schedule a consultation to discuss your oral health concerns.