What Your Tongue Says About Your Overall Health

What does a healthy tongue look like? A healthy tongue should be pink and covered in papillae (or small nodules). Any change in your tongue’s appearance or any pain could mean something more about your oral health or your overall health. When you go through your nightly routine, be sure to check your tongue. Notice any differences? In this post, we’re talking about what tongue abnormalities could mean.

If your tongue has white patches on it, it could mean a few things:

  • Oral thrush—this is a yeast infection that develops in the mouth. It usually looks like white patches in a similar consistency to cottage cheese. Oral thrush is most common in infants and the elderly.
  • Leukoplakia—this condition occurs when the cells in the mouth grow too excessively. It can be identified by white patches on the tongue and on the inside of the mouth. Leukoplakia develops when the tongue is irritated. It’s most common in tobacco users.
  • Oral lichen planus—this condition appears as little raised white lines on your tongue. Its cause is unknown, but it usually goes away on its own.

If your tongue is unusually red, it could be:

  • Vitamin deficiency—both vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies can cause a red tongue.
  • Geographic tongue—this is a condition that leaves a pattern similar to a map of reddish spots on the surface of the tongue. It is usually harmless.
  • Scarlet fever—this is an infection that can lead to the tongue looking red and bumpy, similar to a strawberry. Antibiotics are usually necessary to kill the infection.  
  • Kawasaki disease—this condition can also lead to a strawberry-like appearance on the surface of the tongue. It’s usually seen in children under the age of 5 and often accompanied by a high fever. It is a serious condition. If you suspect Kawasaki disease, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If your tongue is sore and bumpy, it may mean:

  • Trauma—have you recently bit or burnt your tongue? Grinding or clenching teeth can also irritate your tongue and mouth.
  • Smoking—smoking irritates your tongue and throat. It can lead to soreness.
  • Canker sores—mouth ulcers are common and can develop on the tongue. It can be caused by stress. They normally heal on their own but can also be treated by ointments.
  • Oral cancer—signs of oral cancer can appear in your mouth and on your tongue. A lump or sore on your tongue that doesn’t go away on its own, usually within two weeks, seek an evaluation from a medical professional. Oral cancer usually is not painful in its early stages, but it much easier to deal with if caught early on.