It wouldn’t come as a surprise if I told you that a trip to the dentist involved getting your teeth checked but did you know that when we look in your mouth we are also checking your gums, cheeks, lips and tongue?
Your tongue does more than just taste things for you. Your tongue is essential for speech and swallowing and it helps keep your teeth clean too, it also produces saliva which cleans away harmful bacteria that would otherwise breed in your mouth.
But did you realise that your tongue can actually tell tales about the state of your health?
As a holistic dentist, I am particularly interested in the condition of your tongue as it can speak volumes about your health and wellbeing, nutritional status and even stress levels.
In fact, your tongue’s colour, texture and moisture level can provide information on how your body is feeling. So, if you are feeling unwell or just plain curious, stick out your tongue and take a look in the mirror and find out what tales your tongue has to tell.
Here’s what to look for:
A healthy tongue should be pink in colour, slightly moist, and smooth with no bumps or spots and be layered with visible taste buds.
The colour of the tongue reflects your nutritional status, the health of your internal organs and level of blood circulation.
Pale – could indicate your blood is lacking haemoglobin, especially if the tongue is extremely smooth. You may also feel tired and lethargic. Ensure you are eating foods rich in iron and Vitamin C.
Red – bright red suggests that the tongue is inflamed. This can be caused by nutritional deficiencies in iron and B-vitamins like folic acid, vitamin B12 or vitamin B3.
Purple – can indicate high cholesterol levels, low oxygenation of the blood and poor circulation that results in stagnant blood in the tongue. This is often the result of lifestyle, diet and medications. If your tongue is regularly purple in appearance you should consult your doctor.
White – A white coating on your tongue is often a sign of dehydration. It can also be caused by smoking or alcohol. A white coating can also be a sign of thrush yeast infections.
Black – A black, coated tongue results from an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. It is quite common after a course of antibiotics. This is a harmless condition that can usually be resolved by brushing your tongue and using a tongue scraper twice a day. Rinsing your mouth with diluted hydrogen peroxide can also help remove discolouration. Probiotics to improve your gut function can also prove beneficial.
A healthy tongue should be smooth in appearance with visible taste buds. Texture changes can be due to nutritional deficiencies, allergies, infection or health issues.
Raised red spots – these spots are due to broken veins and capillaries in the tongue. Try taking bioflavonoids and vitamin C to help strengthen the capillaries.
Ulcers – these can be painful, last around 10-14 days and appear for apparently no reason, however, they can be triggered by stress and fatigue and vitamin deficiencies. If an ulcer lasts longer than 2 weeks or is bleeding visit your dentist immediately as it could be a sign of something more serious like mouth cancer.
Hairy Tongue – If the papillae (small bumps) that cover the surface of your tongue become enlarged and profuse, it can make the tongue appear hairy or furry. Don’t worry though as this is considered normal for some individuals.
Geographic Tongue – This condition is characterised by smooth, bright red patches on the top of the tongue. The patches can change in size and location and have a map-like appearance. There may also be some soreness or burning. This condition is harmless and usually resolves on its own in a few months. It can be triggered by stress, hormonal changes or allergies.
Fissured Tongue – This is another harmless condition in which deep grooves form on the tongue’s surface. In fact, the fissured tongue is an inherited trait that normally occurs in 10% of the population.
Swollen/puffy – This can be caused by allergies, medications or infections. It affects the tongue, mouth or gums and can also be due to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Enlarged/Swollen Tongue – A swollen tongue can be caused by a number of disorders, including strep infection, leukaemia, cancer, and hypothyroidism. It can also be due to a hangover or an allergic reaction to food or medication. If your tongue is swollen check with your doctor.
Scalloped tongue – this is a sign of clenching and grinding which is often related to stress. Vitamins and minerals like magnesium can be of help as can a splint made by your dentist.
A healthy tongue should have a thin transparent coating. Changes to the coating can indicate acute illness, such as colds and digestive issues.
Yellow – a yellow coating is often the result of a bacterial or fungal infection.
Furry – a thick coating can represent an infection, oral thrush or dehydration. This can impair taste and cause bad breath.
The Best Ways to Look After Your Tongue and Keep It Healthy
To keep your tongue clean and healthy I recommend brushing your teeth and using a tongue scraper twice a day. Tongue scrapers are inexpensive and very easy to use. Tongue scraping only takes 10 or 15 seconds, slide the scraper gently over your tongue, repeat three or four times to reach the entire surface and viola one nice clean tongue, so easy!
At Evolve Kenmore dentist we stock the breath and tongue scraper as I feel it gives a great clean.
What Nutrients are Required for Mouth Health?
Nutritional deficiencies are so often related to the appearance and health of the tongue. The following is a brief overview of the nutrients I advise to promote good oral health and wellbeing.
B-vitamins – each individual B-vitamin has its own specific role to keep the body healthy. Deficiencies in B6 or B12 can lead to a swollen and sore tongue, along with teeth indentations and fissures on the surface of the tongue.
Iron – an iron deficiency can cause swelling of the tongue and painful sores in the mouth.
Vitamin C – keeps capillaries and mouth tissue strong. Bleeding gums are often the result of a lack of vitamin C and zinc. Vitamin C helps the body fight off infections and yeasts such as Candida that causes oral thrush.
Calcium and Vitamin D – the jaw and teeth have a high calcium content. Calcium deficiency can reduce resistance to infections and tooth decay. Vitamin D also has a positive impact on oral health. Recent studies indicate it can reduce the incidence of tooth decay by up to 50%.
If you want a healthy mouth then love your tongue: feed it great nutrient-dense foods, keep well hydrated, limit alcohol and smoking, lower stress levels, and keep it clean. Otherwise, the next time you visit your dentist your tongue will tell tales on you and your health.