announcement

Update: Check new design of our homepage!

What Does Your Tongue Say About Your Health?

What Does Your Tongue Say About Your Health?
Simply examining your tongue can let doctors know if you are getting adequate nutrition or if you are suffering from any digestive system problems. The texture and color of the tongue is an important indicator of illness, and cannot be ignored.
WellnessKeen Staff
Last Updated: Dec 31, 2017
Did You Know?
Cleaning your tongue - with the help of a tongue scraper - can help prevent many diseases including diabetes, pneumonia, heart attacks, and even infertility in men.
Have you ever wondered when you go to a doctor's clinic for a routine check-up, why the doctors asks you to open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue? This is because by simply observing the appearance of your tongue, the doctor can get an idea about your health status.
Doctor looking in a patient mouth
The tongue is often said to be a window to our health. Any disturbances inside the body are often reflected on the surface of the tongue. A normal tongue has a nice healthy pink color, appears clean, and shows a somewhat rough surface due to the presence of tiny projections, commonly referred to as papillae, on which the taste buds are located.
A change in texture or color of the tongue may be a warning sign of an underlying condition. Although blood tests confirm nutritional deficiency, it can be gauged by observing the tongue.
What Does Your Tongue Reflect About Your Health?
Smooth Tongue
A smooth and beefy-red appearance of the tongue has been linked to folate or vitamin B12 deficiency. People with a smooth and pale tongue may have inadequate hemoglobin in their blood, indicating iron deficiency anemia. The tongue appearing smooth and beefy-red is also common in glossitis, a condition in which the tongue becomes inflamed and is often accompanied by the absence of papillae (raised projections on the tongue surface).
A red swollen tongue along with fever has been associated with Kawasaki disease or scarlet fever.
Geographic Tongue
The name of the condition comes from the map like patterns that form on the surface of the tongue. The irregular red patches that develop on the tongue are surrounded by a grayish-white border. A geographic tongue is usually chronic and the patches formed may go and reappear, and change in size and shape frequently. The papillae are no longer visible on these patches. The condition is harmless and as such does not indicate any 'turbulence' inside the body.
Geographic Tongue
However, it tends to occur in people affected with psoriasis and fissured tongue. Although the New England Journal of Medicine has revealed a strong association of geographic tongue with celiac disease, further studies are yet to verify these claims. People with geographic tongue may experience burning sensation when eating spicy or acidic foods.
Scrotal Tongue
People affected with scrotal tongue show a distinct formation of fissures on the surface of the tongue. As multiple fissures develop, the tongue appears wrinkled. Again, scrotal tongue is not a cause for concern as the condition is not connected to any infection or disease. Scrotal tongue is an inborn defect and the fissures become prominent with passing age. However, in some cases, scrotal tongue may occur due to nutritional deficiency. The fissures deepen as the person gets older.
When food particles, especially spicy food and salt gets trapped in these fissures, it may trigger a burning sensation. The fissures can also become breeding grounds for bacteria and cause infection and bad breath.
Raised Red Spots
Raised red spots indicate that the capillaries just near the surface of the tongue may have broken. Eating hot foods or beverages can cause these delicate capillaries to break open, which may lead to formation of bumpy red spots on the tongue. An easy remedy to reduce capillary fragility would be to include vitamin C in the diet. Vitamin C plays a key role to strengthen the walls of capillaries. This may help to prevent breakage of capillaries on the tongue.
Dry Tongue
A dry tongue indicates insufficient production of saliva, which is often due to swollen salivary glands. This usually occurs as a response to stress, but formation of stones in the salivary duct can also cause inflammation of the salivary gland.
Black Hairy Tongue
Although, the affected tongue may appear scary, there is really nothing to worry about this condition as it often goes away without any medical intervention. The filiform papillae are hair-like structures that cover the dorsal region of the tongue. An important component found in these filiform papillae is keratin, which is also present in our hair. Hence, lengthening of filiform papillae (as observed in this condition) makes them look very similar to our hair, giving the surface of the tongue a black hairy appearance. The sudden overgrowth of filiform papillae has often been attributed to proliferation of bacteria or fungi in the oral activity.
Ulcers
Painful white ulcers may appear beneath the tongue. Although the exact cause is not identified, the risk factors associated with canker sores include stress, braces, and a diet lacking in essential nutrients. Canker sores may also occur from food allergies or drinking juices that are highly acidic.
Tongue Color
Purple
When the tongue appears purple in color, it is suggestive of high cholesterol levels, thereby alerting about an impending heart problem. Purple tongue may also point towards lung problems such as chronic bronchitis. Poor blood circulation in certain parts of the body may also cause the tongue to turn purple. It may indicate stagnant blood, meaning blood flow is blocked somewhere in the body.
Yellow
A yellow tongue may indicate accumulation of bacteria within the trough of the papillae (raised projections scattered over the surface of the tongue). This can happen when these papillae become inflamed, thereby allowing the bacteria to colonize. These bacteria then release certain chemicals known as porphyrins that eventually make the tongue yellow in color. Inadequate water intake, consumption of caffeinated beverages, and use of medicines like antihistamines and antidepressants can cause dry mouth and promote proliferation of bacteria over the tongue papillae. This may also worsen yellow tongue.
White
White patches on the tongue is often an indication of oral thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth. When the fungus Candida albicans invades the lining of the mouth, it can cause creamy white lesions to appear on the tongue. People with oral thrush are unable to taste properly, and also suffer from bad breath. Proliferation of bacteria and dead cells can also lead to formation of a white film on the tongue.
In most cases, unusual appearance of the tongue has been linked to poor oral hygiene. People often tend to ignore the use of a tongue cleaner after brushing their teeth. These tongue cleaners help to remove the debris from the tongue, which in turn helps to keep the tongue healthy. Poor diet, smoking, mouth-breathing, tobacco chewing, and too much use of antibiotics are some of other causes of an unhealthy tongue. On the other hand, an abrupt change in the
color of the tongue to brown or black is often associated with food and bismuth-containing medication.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the Tongue
Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Tongue
TCM has a different interpretation for unhealthy appearance of the tongue. For instance, a yellow or yellowish-green tongue may indicate issues with the liver or gall bladder. On the other hand, a white tongue, which ancient Chinese practitioners believe is not the same as a white coating, points towards anemia and poor nutrition. If the color of the tongue turns gray or brownish-gray, it is suggestive of stomach or intestinal problems.
Traditional Chinese Medicine links a specific portion of the tongue to internal organs. So, any disturbances in the organ may manifest on the associated part of the tongue.
Tip of the Tongue - Heart
Persistent redness close to the tip of the tongue may indicate heart problems. A red-tipped tongue may also be a sign of emotional trauma such as anxiety.
Center of the Tongue - Stomach, Spleen
A yellow coating in the central area of the tongue points towards digestive issues, and probably something wrong with the stomach, pancreas, or the spleen.
Borders of the Tongue - Liver
Occurrence of teeth marks at the borders of the tongue is interpreted as poor absorption of nutrients. This may indicate liver problems such as enlarged liver and hepatitis. Bluish-green spots at the sides of the tongue may also reflect liver disorders such as cirrhosis.
Behind the Tip of the Tongue - Respiratory System
Red spots just behind the tip of the tongue may point towards lung problems such as pneumonia and asthma. Froth at the front portion of the tongue may indicate congestion in the chest and the lungs, and points towards bronchitis and respiratory allergy.
Back of the Tongue - Kidneys
A thick, yellow coating at the back/base of the tongue is suggestive of kidney or bladder problems, and the person may be susceptible to kidney stones and even kidney failure.
Formation of grayish-pink lump(s) at the borders of the tongue may indicate cancer. The lumps resemble an ulcer and bleed easily. In any case, any issues with the tongue that causes persistent pain for over a fortnight and interferes with the taste sensation should not be ignored, and may require medical intervention.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.