The old adage of ‘stick your tongue out’ still forms the basic ritual of many doctor visits. But have you ever wondered what they might be looking at when peering deep down your mouth?
Your doctor is only having a closer look at your tongue, which acts as a finely tuned barometer of your overall well-being. In short, it serves as your own little personalized medical report. So, how do you know when all’s not right? These four signs should point towards greater examination.
1. Surface Changes
Your tongue is covered throughout with tiny nodule-like structures called ‘papillae’. Changes to these fuzzy nodules may be because of an underlying health condition.
- An excessively smooth tongue may signal a nutritional deficiency. A smooth tongue that looks pale can mean an iron or vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Patchy lesions that seem to change their location from day to day indicate a condition called geographic tongue. In this condition, patches of your papillae go missing, which creates smooth ‘red’ islands on the tongue with slightly raised borders. While there is no known cause for geographic tongue, it may be due to irritants such as alcohol or certain foods.
- A cracked or wrinkled surface may suggest a general vitamin deficiency. Although a long deep midline crack reaching the tip of the tongue can be suggestive of a cardiac condition, short horizontal cracks may be linked to kidney problems.
A bright and pleasant pink is a sign of a healthy tongue. Variance from this may be a sign of an internal condition.
- A pale or white tongue may signify anemia or other circulatory difficulties. It could also mean digestive disturbance or impaired thyroid function.
- If your tongue is a bright shade of red it may indicate scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease. Also referred to as ‘strawberry tongue’, this change in color can be a result of a vitamin deficiency due to poor eating habits.
- Brown spots on the tongue could possibly be a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
- A black or dark purple tongue can be due to poor oral hygiene, excessive use of tobacco and smoking.
A spot on your tongue can be a result of more than just surface trauma.
- A bump on the top of the tongue can be an allergic reaction to a particular food or medication or, in severe cases, a bacterial or viral infection.
- A red, sore tongue may mean diabetes or anemia. Soreness can also be caused by excessive smoking or use of tobacco.
- Recurrent mouth and tongue ulcers can be a warning sign for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
A healthy tongue has a thin white coating that develops during the day as a result of what you eat and drink. However, if your tongue develops an unusual coating then it’s time to find out why.
- A thick white coating can suggest cold and flu. This opaque coating usually means that there are bacteria, dead cells and food debris wedged in the papillae. It may also mean oral thrush.
- A yellowish coating suggests a stomach, liver or gallbladder condition. It may also mean dehydration or could correspond to inflammation.