tongue health

Open your mouth and look at your tongue. That may sound strange, but did you know your tongue can indicate health problems?

You might be surprised to learn that a black and hairy-looking tongue can signal poor oral hygiene, or diabetes. If your tongue is bright red like a strawberry, it could signal a deficiency in folic acid, vitamin B12, or iron. But it could also mean you have strep throat or a fever.

Is your tongue full of red and white spots? That might be a sign your taste buds are worn down. Whether you’ve eaten a pack of Sour Patch Kids each day for the last five years or you recently ate a blistering hot piece of pizza, you’ve likely been a victim of red and white tongue. Luckily, it is fairly common and taste buds do regenerate.

So, the next time get a chance, look in the mirror, open your mouth, and inspect your tongue. It might be news to you what your tongue has to say about your health!

Here are some more facts about what your tongue says about your health:

Infographic: Your Tongue and Health

What do white patches on your tongue mean?

White patches on your tongue mean oral candidiasis or thrush, which is an overgrowth of yeast. Try brushing your tongue regularly for a week to see if it responds to better oral hygiene.

If the patches persist, their cause is likely an overgrowth of candida. This condition can be treated with antifungal drugs. Talk to your primary care provider.

What does it mean if your tongue is hairy and black-looking?

There are a few causes for the black hairy tongue, including yeast infections, diabetes, cancer therapies, and poor oral hygiene. A buildup of dead skin cells on your tongue’s papillae results in a hairy look.

No medical care is needed for this condition. Simply practice excellent oral hygiene by regularly brushing your tongue (with the aid of a tongue scraper, as needed), and the problem will go away.

What do red and white spots on your tongue mean?

Nothing’s wrong here! Red and white spots on your tongue simply indicate the areas where your taste buds have worn down. This condition is common and requires no treatment.

What does an abnormally red tongue mean?

A red tongue can indicate a deficiency in folic acid, vitamin B12, or iron, or it may imply fever or strep throat. Rather than functioning as an ailment itself, a red tongue hints at your overall health. All of these symptoms are easy fixes that require a supplement or medication.

What does a webbed or striped tongue mean?

The webbed or striped look is caused by your immune system attacking the cells. It often hints at an inflammatory condition known as oral lichen planus. Lichen planus is not contagious but puts you at risk for mouth cancer, so it is important to monitor the condition.

The best way to treat a webbed tongue is to practice proper dental hygiene. Also, avoid tobacco and food that may irritate your mouth.

What does it mean if there are ridges on your tongue?

Ridges occur when your teeth press into your tongue. This usually happens while you sleep. Fortunately, the ridges require no treatment and go away with time.

What does it mean if there are bumps on your tongue?

Bumps on your tongue are most likely canker sores or cold sores. Many things, including biting, smoking, and stress ulcers, can cause them.

These bumps don’t necessarily call for a doctor’s appointment. Instead, try some at-home remedies like gargling warm salt water, chewing on mint leaves, and eating food that is soft and cold (like yogurt). Avoid foods that might trigger a negative reaction (greasy foods like fries), and take care of your teeth. If need be, schedule an appointment with your dentist to discuss the condition.

Editor's Note: This infographic was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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