The tongue constantly plays a crucial role in everyday life, without even us taking much notice of it. Like most other body parts, it's great at giving discrete signs when there’s something wrong. Since almost no one does it, it may sound strange to examine your tongue every once in a while, but doing so can help you learn a lot about your overall health.
You can prevent unnoticed worsening conditions by developing a simple habit of regularly checking your tongue and being on the lookout for a few warning signs. They may include a different feel, lack of taste, or changes in colour and appearance, etc.
In this article, we’ll look at detail at the signs your tongue may display, and what they might mean – so keep reading!
1. Paleness of the tongue’s surface –iron deficiency or cold
Ideally, your tongue should have a thin white coating with an overall pink colour. If it starts appearing ‘bloodless’ or extra pale, you could be dealing with a viral illness that lowers your body temperature. Besides diseases, feeling cold may also be associated with fatigue or undernourished blood. To address this possibility, try adding more warm foods to your diet with some ginger supplements for quicker results.
Iron deficiency is another possibility that may be indicated by a pale tongue with a dry texture. Boosting your iron intake is quite easy, whether you want to do so with supplements, or diet, or both! Some of the best iron-rich foods are lentils, dark chocolate, spinach, tofu, broccoli, oysters, and eggs.
2. Cracked tongue surface – imbalance of hormones
Cracks on the surface of the tongue may point to a vitamin deficiency associated with a hormonal imbalance. A hormonal imbalance can occur as a result of lower or higher levels of hormone(s) in your bloodstream. As hormones play an essential role in the optimal functioning of the body, even mild imbalances can potentially cause a significant impact on your overall wellbeing. A cracked tongue normally indicates that something isn’t right in that department.
There are various ways to treat hormonal imbalances naturally. To get a professional opinion and diagnosis, it’s best to consult your doctor to make sure you have a reliable treatment plan.
3. Marks left by teeth on the tongue – spleen problems or anxiety
Have you ever noticed a row of teeth marks on the sides or surface of your tongue? In medical terms, that’s known as a scalloped tongue. That name comes from the wavy pattern of the marks you’ll see over the tongue’s edges. It usually happens as a result of an inflamed or swollen tongue. It indicates that your tongue might be damper than it normally should be, pointing towards spleen issues. You may also notice some digestive issues, or being more fatigued than usual.
Besides spleen problems, you might simply be pressing your tongue against your teeth as a passive behaviour due to anxiety. Doing this regularly eventually leaves teeth marks on the surface of the tongue. In any of these situations, it’s best to consult with your doctor to address the underlying issue.
4. Puffiness of tongue –hyperthyroidism or poor diet
Continuous tongue dampness can cause swelling and puffiness. While it isn’t too serious of a sign, it still tells you that you’re not eating healthy. To deal with this, add some more veggies or fruits to your diet. Also, stay away from greasy fattening foods, and try home cooking your meals as frequently as possible.
On rare occasions, a puffy tongue can also point towards an issue of hypothyroidism – a disorder that’s associated with low thyroid hormone levels. It can lead to symptoms like low blood pressure, fatigue, hair loss, and easy bruising. For more information about your condition, and a professional diagnosis, speak to your doctor as soon as you can.
5. Certain areas have changed shape – issues with bladder, liver, spleen, heart or stomach
Sometimes, a difference in tongue appearance may include changes in its shape, colour, or texture in several spots. It’s important to be aware of what a certain change in a particular area of the tongue indicates.
The sides of your tongue are linked to the gallbladder and liver. The tongue’s centre is associated with the stomach or spleen. The back generally links with intestinal issues, as well as the bladder and kidneys. Lastly, changes in the front of the tongue may point towards problems with your heart or lung.
6. White or red blotchiness – oral thrush or excessive heat
When there’s too much internal heat in the system, the tongue may be drier and a brighter shade of red, with no white coating over it. The most common cause is dehydration, especially if you’re noticing red patches on your tongue that almost seem to be ‘peeled’. There’s a simple solution – drink enough water and cook with healthier oils, such as coconut or extra virgin olive oil.
On the other hand, white patches on the tongue could indicate oral thrush, otherwise known as oral candidiasis. It’s caused by a fungus called Candida, which occurs on your tongue as white creamy patches, sometimes with red spots. These patches can appear on your tongue when you’re suffering from oral thrush, but you can also look for them on your throat or around your mouth.
7. Problem with tasting foods – flu, cold or cancer therapy
If you notice you aren’t able to taste flavours well, you’re probably dealing with dysgeusia. Many factors can lead to this problem, including cancer therapy, dry mouth, certain medications, a common cold or flu, or gum disease. Cancer therapy that involves radiation and/or chemotherapy can have a significant impact on how your taste buds respond to different types of food.
Additionally, smoking can also be associated with a lack of taste. While dysgeusia is generally temporary, it only resolves once its cause is addressed and eliminated. If you’re a smoker and have problems tasting food normally, it’s time to finally pull the plug on the habit.
8. Purple-blueish tongue – cold or blood stagnation
Purple spots along the tongue’s edges could indicate a condition called blood stagnation. The tongue will take on a distinct purple shade that almost resembles blueish hues, similar to the veins that are sometimes visible on your wrist through the skin. Blood stagnation causes the blood to slow down or pool, leading to several symptoms including pain.
If the entire tongue appears to have a purple shade overall, you could be up against a seasonal viral common cold. If you’re concerned, the best thing to do is visit a doctor as soon as possible.
9. Purple, light or pale tongue – heat, cold or respiratory illness
As mentioned above, a pale tongue with purple shades all over it generally indicates a common cold. However, a darker shade of purple points toward blood stagnation. Similarly, a crimson-purple tongue can be a sign of higher-than-normal body temperature, especially if you’ve also got a dry mouth. To counter this quickly, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, and the problem should subside on its own.
A pale purple shade of tongue can also be due to a developing respiratory illness. Since there are several possibilities associated with a purplish tongue, you should book a doctor’s appointment to get a professional diagnosis. Following a professional’s direction, you should re-evaluate your dietary choices if they’re detrimental to your health and well-being.
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10. Red tongue – hormonal imbalance, heat, digestion issues
A bright red tongue, almost resembling the shiny red colour of strawberries, is also a sign of hormonal imbalance. You may not be eating the right foods that are healthy for your body, possibly causing your body temperature to be higher than it should be. Other causes of a higher body temperature include digestive problems or inflammation, as well as flu and common colds. To help resolve the issue, drink more water and try eating cooler foods.
A bright red tongue could also mean that heat isn’t being properly distributed throughout your body. Exercising properly, wearing comfortable summer clothes, and staying hydrated can encourage the proper flow of heat around your body, helping your body regulate its temperature well.
11. Surface “hair” on the tongue –Epstein-Barr, poor oral health, or HIV
Probably the rarest sign on this list, hair on the surface of your tongue may be present as a coating of brown, black, or white fur on the surface of your tongue. Upon a close inspection of your tongue, if you find that you have these hairs, it’s best to investigate the issue. These hairs aren’t actually ‘hairs’, but strands of protein that tend to catch bacteria and food over time.
A ‘hairy tongue’ simply points to poor oral hygiene, and it goes away as soon as you scrape or brush your tongue. But if you’ve got patches of white hair that doesn’t go away upon scraping or brushing, the issue might be more serious. You may have a condition called oral hairy leukoplakia due to a viral infection such as Epstein Barr, which is a type of herpes.
12. Blackness on areas of the tongue – antibiotic use or smoking
A darker or blackish tongue is usually not as serious as some of the other signs on this list. Often, it’s only a result of a dead skin cells build-up on your papillae, which are tiny bumps on the tongue containing taste buds. Smoking and antibiotic use are several of the most common reasons for a black tongue.
A black tongue generally comes with some level of hairiness or fuzziness on the surface, possibly accompanied by a metallic taste or bad breath. To treat it, all you need to do is brush regularly and go easy on the cigarettes.
13. Burning on the tongue – acid reflux, infection, dry mouth, diabetes
If you feel a burning sensation around the mouth or your tongue, it could suggest several possible health issues. If you have a lingering metallic or bitter taste, or it feels like you’ve scalded your tongue with a hot drink, you could be dealing with ‘burning mouth syndrome,’ suggesting an issue with the tongue’s nerve. It could also indicate other problems like acid reflux, dry mouth, diabetes, and certain infections.
Checking your Tongue: The Best Method
You’ll only need a few moments to perform self-examination on your tongue. To make sure you don’t forget, try making it a part of your routine, similar to activities like combing your hair, or brushing your teeth.
There’s nothing tricky about checking your tongue – all you need to do is stick it out as far as you can and look in the mirror. Lean forward to get a closer view and see if everything looks normal and healthy. Ideally, it should be a pink shade and have a thin white coating on top. Actively look for any negative signs included in the list above, and if a certain area is bringing you pain, look further into it.
Should you notice any unusual signs on the tongue, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible, especially if you’re also experiencing pain. Ideally, you shouldn’t notice your tongue, even when it’s working. If it continues to be on your mind for any negative reason whatsoever, you should take appropriate measures to address the underlying issues immediately.
The tongue is an extremely important tool that you use more than you think, so it’s essential to look after it for your overall health. Maintain good oral hygiene by scraping your tongue and brushing regularly, and drink plenty of water to help clear any excess bacteria. Book dentist appointments regularly and don’t slide any negative signs under the rug, as that may worsen the condition over time.