Have you ever wondered why doctors check the tongues of patients when they try to diagnose illnesses? I used to wonder too. The color, texture, and moisture of your tongue can tell what’s going on with your health. Usually, a healthy person has a pink tongue that is gently moist and moves freely. How amazing it is that by saying “Ahhh,” people around you who have this knowledge can do a quick analysis of your state of health. Do you want to know how to read the signs your tongue gives? Keep reading.
White patches on the tongue
Do you notice white patches on your tongue or others’ tongues? The tongue gets white when there’s a buildup of bacteria and debris on its surface. This condition may simply be an oral hygiene issue. Brushing your tongue at least twice a day may clear it. Tongue whitening also happens when you are dehydrated or haven’t eaten or spoken for a while. A white tongue is also associated with irritation, chronic inflammation of the tongue’s surface, or an infection.
A common infection which causes tongue whitening is oral thrush. It is a type of yeast infection in which Candida albicans builds up in the mouth. It is common with babies, people who use steroid sprays for asthma, and people who have an immune deficiency.
Redness of the tongue
A red tongue is usually associated with a sore throat. It could be as a result of atrophic glossitis, also known as hunter glossitis, which occurs when many papillae are lost. Papillae are the nipple-like structures on the tongue’s upper surface which give it (the tongue) it’s rough texture. Three of the four types of papillae are associated with taste buds. They contain thousands of tiny sensors and play a role in nutrition. An excessive reduction of these papillae leads to redness of the tongue. Papillae are lost when there’s a deficiency in folic acid, B12 or iron. Lastly, dryness of the mouth also causes redness of the tongue.
Black or hairy-looking tongue
This condition is associated with diabetes, yeast infection, poor oral hygiene, cancer therapies, and the use of antibiotics. The hair-like projections are caused by a buildup of bacteria on the papillae. These bacteria in this situation, don’t shed as they usually would, rather they grow about 15 times their regular length. The coloring is caused by the gathering of pigments from foods and drinks. In rare cases, it has other colors such as yellow, brown and green. Other causes of hairy-looking tongue are
- insufficient saliva production
- excessive coffee and tea intake
- regular use of mouthwash containing peroxide and menthol
- tobacco smoking
Your tongue can get yellow if there’s a buildup of dead skin cells on the papillae. This occurs when the papillae get enlarged and the bacteria in the mouth produce colored pigments. It is usually not harmful. However, if one has a yellow tongue with a yellow skin and eyes, it may be a sign of jaundice.
I’m sure you now see your tongue as more important. It really is, and you should take care of it. A tongue which is not taken care of may give vague signs, as the signs of poor hygiene are sometimes the same as those of infections. Cleaning the tongue isn’t a difficult thing to do. Regular brushing and scraping of the tongue should be done. Scrape your tongue gently in a downward movement to remove excess plaque. Rinse your mouth thoroughly after you scrape it. Visiting a doctor at least twice a year for check-ups is also advisable.
Now you can listen to your tongue.
. www. cmaj.ca