You use it almost constantly, but often do you really look at your tongue? While many of us probably don’t make tongue examinations a daily thing, you’d be surprised at how much you can learn from regularly checking yours out.
Your tongue, like every part of your body, is very clever at notifying you if something’s wrong. This might be in the way it feels, but more often than not, it’ll change in appearance. If you can get into the habit of checking your tongue, as well as being aware of the potential warning signs to look out for, you’ll be helping yourself to stay healthy in the future.
1. Pale tongue – cold or iron deficiency
Your tongue should naturally be pink in colour with a thin white coating. If it’s looking too pale, almost "bloodless" in appearance, chances are, you’re suffering from a viral illness that’s making your body temperature drop.
Aside from illness, you may also feel cold if you’re fatigued or you need to nourish your blood. Try eating warm foods to combat this, and take ginger supplements for extra support.
A pale tongue that’s dry in texture is also a sign of an iron deficiency. Luckily, it’s easy to increase your iron take via supplements or the foods you eat in your diet. Tofu, spinach, dark chocolate, lentils, eggs, oysters and broccoli are all great sources of iron.
2. Cracks in your tongue – hormonal imbalance
You’ll normally find that if your tongue is showing cracks on its surface, you’ve probably got a vitamin deficiency caused by a hormone imbalance. Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in your bloodstream.
Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body, and a cracked tongue is a common sign that something’s not right.
If you think your hormones are off-balance, there are a number of ways to naturally treat the issue. It’s best to speak to your doctor first for a professional diagnosis and treatment plan.
3. Teeth marks in your tongue – spleen issues or anxiety
If you notice teeth marks on the surface or the sides of your tongue, it’s known by professionals as a scalloped tongue. Scalloped tongue gets its name from the wavy indentations that you’ll see along the edges of your tongue, and is usually caused when your tongue swells or becomes inflamed.
This is a sign that your tongue is damper than it should be, which suggest you may have an issue with spleen. If your spleen isn’t working poorly, you might also notice that you’re more tired than usual, and you’re experiencing digestive issues.
Aside from spleen issues, anxiety can sometimes cause you to press your tongue against your teeth. If you do this quite regularly, you’ll eventually leave indentations. In both cases, it’s advised to speak to your doctor to help solve the underlying issue.
4. Large, puffy tongue – poor diet or hyperthyroidism
A build-up of dampness of the tongue can cause puffiness and swelling. This isn’t usually a serious sign – rather, an indication that you’re not eating the right sort of diet. Try to add more fruits and vegetables into your meals, home cook where you can, and stay away from greasy foods.
Occasionally, a swollen, puffy tongue can be a sign of hypothyroidism. This is a thyroid disorder that’s characterized by low levels of the thyroid hormone, which can lead to symptoms like hair loss, fatigue, easy bruising, and low blood pressure. Speak to your doctor for more information and medical diagnosis.
5. Shape changes in certain areas – problems with the liver, bladder, spleen, stomach, and heart
Your tongue may change colour, texture, or shape in a number of different locations, and it’s important to know which area indicates what. Generally, if the very back of your tongue changes in shape, you may have an issue with your large and small intestines, as well as your kidneys and bladder.
The side areas of your tongue are linked to the liver and gallbladder, while the centre of the tongue is associated with your spleen and stomach. If the very front part of your tongue has changed in shape, this may indicate that you have an issue with your lungs or heart.
6. Red or white and blotchy tongue – too much heat, oral thrush
A dry or red tongue with no thin white coating is usually a sign that there’s too much internal heat in your body’s system. This might be caused by dehydration, especially if you’re noticing red splotches that have an almost “peeled” appearance. The solution is simple: drink more water, and cook with healthier oils, like olive oil and coconut oil.
White spots on your tongue, on the other hand, could be a sign of oral thrush. A fungus called Candida causes oral thrush, otherwise known as oral candidiasis. This fungus will present on your tongue as creamy white patches, sometimes with red areas. These patches can appear on your tongue, but look out for them on your mouth or throat too.
7.Inability to taste foods properly – cancer therapy, cold or flu
If you’re struggling to taste your foods properly, you most likely have something called dysgeusia. A number of factors can result in dysgeusia, including certain medications and cancer therapy, as well as a dry mouth, gum disease, and a simple cold or flu.
Cancer therapy involving chemotherapy and radiation especially can affect your taste buds’ response to food. It’s also common for smoking to affect your taste. Dysgeusia tends to only be temporary, and should resolve once you’ve eliminated the cause – so if you are smoking, it’s time to stop now.
8. Blueish purple tongue – blood stagnation or cold
If your tongue has blueish purple spots along the edges, it might be due to something known as blood stagnation. This is a condition that causes the slowing or pooling of blood, which can lead to pain and other symptoms. This particular shade of purple would almost look blue, like the colour of the veins in your wrist.
If your entire tongue is bluish purple in appearance, you might just be suffering from a standard viral cold. Make sure you see your doctor if you’re concerned it might be something more serious.
9. Pale purple tongue – cold, respiratory illness or heat
A pale purple tongue is usually an indication of a cold, although if your tongue is dark purple, it may again indicate blood stagnation. A crimson-purple tongue suggests that your body temperature is higher than it should be, especially if you’re also experiencing dryness of the mouth. In this case, drink plenty of water and make sure to stay hydrated, and the issue should clear up on its own.
If your tongue is pale purple, it might be linked to a respiratory illness. Work with your doctor to treat the underlying cause, and re-evaluate your diet if you think it may be contributing to your current state of health.
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10. Bright red tongue – hormonal imbalance, heat, digestion issues
A tongue that’s bright, almost strawberry-red, is another indicator that you have a hormonal imbalance. It could also be telling you that your body temperature is too high, which might be caused by not eating the right healthy foods. Inflammation or digestion issues can sometimes lead to increased body temperature, as well as common colds and flus. Try eating cooler foods to resolve the issue.
If your tongue is red, it could similarly mean that heat isn't flowing properly around your body. Make sure to regularly exercise, dress accordingly, and stay hydrated to the keep heat moving in and out of your body and ultimately regulate your body's temperature.
11. Hair on surface of tongue – poor oral health, Epstein-Barr or HIV
One of the rarer changes to your tongue presents as a surface coating that has the appearance of black, brown, or white fur, which is known as hairy tongue. Those “hairs” are not actually hairs, but long strands of proteins that catch food and bacteria over time.
Usually, hairy tongue is simply a sign of poor oral hygiene, and you should find it goes away naturally when you brush or scrape your tongue. However, if you notice that your patches of hair are white in colour, and you’re struggling to scrape them off, you might have something called oral hairy leukoplakia. This is usually a result of a viral infection like Epstein-Barr, a type of herpes, or HIV.
12. Black areas of tongue– smoking or antibiotic use
A black tongue is usually nothing to worry about. You’ll often find that it's a result of a build-up of dead skin cells on your papillae, the tiny areas of your tongue that contain your taste buds. Some of the most common causes of a black tongue include the use of some antibiotics and smoking.
If you have a black tongue, it’s normally accompanied by some surface fuzziness or hairiness. It may also be accompanied by bad breath and a metallic taste in your mouth. To treat a black tongue, you usually only need to brush your tongue regularly with a normal toothbrush and cut down on your smoking habit.
13. Burning sensation – dry mouth, infections, diabetes, acid reflux
A burning sensation in your tongue and mouth can be a sign of all number of health issues. If your tongue feels like you’ve scalded it on a hot drink and tastes metallic or bitter, you might have something called burning mouth syndrome.
This could suggest an issue with the nerves in your tongue, but can also be a sign of health problems like dry mouth, infections, acid reflux, and diabetes.
How to check your tongue
Examining your tongue need only take seconds of your time. Try to make it a part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or combing your hair, so that you’re less likely to forget.
There are no secret or difficult elements to checking your tongue – simply stick it out as far as it’ll stretch and stand in front of a mirror. Lean in close for a better view and check that everything looks healthy.
Generally, if your tongue is a sort of soft pink colour with a thin white coating, it’s healthy. Look out for any of the signs mentioned in this video, and if a particular area is painful, investigate further.
Ultimately, you should make a visit to your GP if your tongue is displaying any unusual symptoms, especially if pain is involved. Your tongue is a part of your body that you shouldn’t notice, even while it’s working, so if it’s on your mind for any negative reason, it’s best to do something about it.
Your tongue really is cleverer than you give it credit for, and it’s important to look after it for the sake of your overall health and wellbeing. Make sure to brush it regularly to maintain good oral hygiene, using a tongue scraper if necessary, and drink plenty of water to help wash away any excess bacteria. Make regular dental appointments and speak out if something doesn’t feel right.