Open your mouth and look at your tongue. That may sound strange, but your tongue can tell a lot about your health. For example, 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 clear sign your taste buds are worn down. If you’ve eaten a pack of Sour Patch Kids a day for the last five years, or ate a piece of pizza in your mouth as soon as it came out of the oven, you’ve likely been a victim of red and white tongue. Luckily, this is fairly common and taste buds do regenerate.
So the next time you get out of the shower, wipe off the mirror, open your mouth, and inspect your tongue. You might be surprised at what you find!
Here are some additional facts about what your tongue says about your health:
If You See White Patches on Your Tongue
These white patches on your tongue signify oral candidiasis, which is an overgrowth of yeast or thrush. Try brushing your tongue regularly for a week to see if this is a matter of oral hygiene. If the patches persist, their cause is likely an overgrowth of candida. This condition can be treated with anti-fungal drugs.
Your Tongue is Black and Hairy-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 tongue scrapers, as needed), and the problem should not persist.
There are Red and White Spots on Your Tongue
Nothing’s wrong here! Red and white spots on your tongue simply indicate the areas where your taste buds have worn down. This is common and requires no treatment.
Your Tongue Has Abnormal Redness
A red tongue can indicate a deficiency in folic acid, 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.
If Your Tongue Has a Webbed or Stripped Look
The webbed or striped look is caused by your immune system attacking the cells and 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 this condition is to practice proper dental hygiene, avoid tobacco, and food that may irritate your mouth.
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.
You See Bumps on Your Tongue
Bumps on your tongue are most likely canker sores or cold sores. These are caused by many things, including biting, smoking, and stress ulcers. 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.
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The experts in the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology treat a variety of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions in both children and adults. Our team includes board-certified physicians and highly skilled speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options. Our research and clinical trials help to advance care for our patients. Find an ENT expert near you.