Your tongue is a small but strong muscle that you use frequently but probably don’t think about much. Throughout your day, it is hard at work helping you chew your food, keep your throat clear, and of, course speak. While your tongue has a lot to say throughout the day, there are some important things it may need to say just to you. Check out these 12 things your tongue can alert you to if it experiences changes in color, texture, or sensation.
12. You Are Low on Vitamin B12
A smooth, shiny, bright red tongue may be a sign of a lack of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is critical for the formation of the healthy red blood cells that carry oxygenated blood to your tissues. A lack of red blood cells can bring about a condition known as vitamin deficiency anemia. Other symptoms of this condition may include weakness, numbness, irritability, fatigue, and diarrhea. Those at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency include people with absorption issues, individuals with certain autoimmune diseases, and strict vegans or vegetarians.
11. You (or Your Child) May Have Kawasaki Disease
Kawasaki disease is a disorder that typically affects children under the age of five. According to the Mayo Clinic, this disease may cause inflammation of the arteries, mouth, and lymph nodes. A bright red tongue shows up in the first phase of this disease, along with fever, red skin, and swollen lymph nodes. In phase two, the skin of the hands and feet may peel off. Lastly, in phase three, these symptoms gradually subside. To prevent heart damage, contact your physician if a fever lasts more than three days or if symptoms are severe.
10. You May Have Scarlet Fever
Some people who have strep throat go on to develop scarlet fever. Symptoms of this infection may include a sore throat, a sunburn-like rash, red creases at the elbows and groin, flushing, and a bumpy, bright red tongue. Group A strep is passed from person to person. Therefore, those at risk for contracting scarlet fever are school children and others who spend time in close contact with a lot of people. Antibiotics are used to treat scarlet fever. You can help to prevent the spread of illness by washing your hands frequently.
9. You Need to Brush Better
If your tongue starts to look brown or seems to sprout little black hairs, you may need to do a better job of brushing. According to Oral-B, your tongue can look black if it becomes overpopulated with bacteria. Smoking, as well as drinking a lot of coffee or tea, can also contribute to a brownish or black tongue. Brush your teeth twice each day using a fluoride toothpaste and a circular motion on the surface of your teeth. Next, give your tongue a gentle brushing as well. You may want to follow up your tooth brushing with an antiseptic mouthwash.
8. You Have a Yeast Infection
If your tongue is covered in white patches that remind you of cottage cheese, you may have a yeast infection called oral thrush or candidiasis. The cheesy white appearance of the tongue may be the only symptom, or you may also experience pain or a burning sensation. According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, people at higher risk of developing oral thrush are infants, patients on antibiotics, or those with weakened immune systems. Your doctor may prescribe antifungal drugs to be taken by mouth or applied topically to the tongue.
7. You May Have an Allergy
A painful, burning sensation of the tongue may be a sign of a new allergy. If you suffer from hay fever and notice that your tongue starts tingling or burning after eating foods, you may have oral allergy syndrome. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that individuals who are allergic to various pollens in the air may develop an allergy to food plants as well. For instance, someone who is allergic to ragweed may experience an allergic reaction of the mouth when eating melons, bananas, cucumbers, or garlic.
6. Your Hormones Are Shifting
Another trigger for a burning of the tongue may be the hormonal changes associated with menopause. The tongue may display no visible signs of distress other than a burning sensation that is not related to eating or irritation. The Journal of Mid-Life Health reports that this phenomenon is not well understood. However, it may be related to decreased estrogen levels, changes in nerve cells, or increased mouth dryness. According to the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, treatment may include pain medications, topical anesthetics, hormone replacement therapy, and increased fluids.
5. You May Have Oral Psoriasis
If your tongue takes on the appearance of a landscape visualized from above, you may have geographic tongue. In this condition, the tongue appears to have hills, valleys, and plateaus. This condition is caused by inflammation and may be a form of psoriasis. While episodes of geographic tongue will go away without treatment, your doctor may recommend pain medications and mouth rinses to manage your symptoms. The Brazilian Society of Dermatology reports that geographic tongue may be linked to conditions such as diabetes, Down’s syndrome, pregnancy, asthma, and allergies.
4. You Are Stressed
Those painful mouth sores known as canker sores may occur when you accidentally bite your cheek or the edge of your tongue. However, they sometimes seem to crop up for no reason. Vitamin deficiencies, exposure to acidic foods, and certain kinds of toothpaste can cause canker sores Furthermore, you may be more susceptible to these annoyingly painful mouth ulcers when you are overtired, run down, and stressed out. To help prevent canker sores and keep your body at peak performance, be sure to eat nourishing foods, get plenty of sleep, and make time for friends and relaxation.
3. You Are Getting Older
New wrinkles and dents in your tongue may be caused by dental appliances that dig into your tongue. In some cases, tongue grooves may harbor a fungal infection. However, wrinkles in your tongue may just be a sign that you are getting older. Your tongue, like the rest of your body, may be showing the effects of aging. According to Colgate, scrotal tongue is a condition in which the tongue displays many wrinkles and grooves. While this life-long condition is usually present at birth, it may not become obvious until you get older. Contact your dentist if these grooves become painful.
2. Your Tongue Is Irritated
Small white patches on the tongue may be a sign that something is irritating this organ. This condition, called leukoplakia, may be caused by friction against a dental appliance. Your teeth may irritate your tongue as well. Smoking is a definite source of irritation for the tongue. If you develop white patches that don’t go away in a week or two, contact your dentist to have the problem checked out. Leukoplakia can be an early warning sign that irritation to the tongue may develop into cancer.
1. You Have Tongue Cancer
Red or white sores in the mouth and on the tongue that just won’t heal may be symptoms of oral cancer. Oral cancer may occur in the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the tonsils, or the pharynx. The American Cancer Society lists pain, trouble chewing or swallowing, tongue numbness, and trouble moving your tongue among other symptoms of oral cancer. Risk factors for cancers of the mouth include smoking, alcohol use, infection with HPV, and a poor diet. A diagnosis of stage I or II cancer of the tongue may require surgery or radiation.