Oral health can be tricky if you don’t know what to look out for, and your tongue health can actually flag warning signs – here’s what you should be paying attention to
Image: Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley)
Your tongue can be easy to forget about. In fact, its presence in your mouth often overlooked until you accidentally bite it, but it is also a powerful and incredibly helpful part of the body.
Measuring 3 inches long, on average, your tongue usually has between 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds and is made up of eight different muscles.
It is also incredibly sensitive, and can a be reference for your overall health.
Warning signs on your tongue to look out for
According to WebMD everyone should know about these signs. Read on to learn all about them.
Creamy white patches could be a sign of the fungal infection thrush, often caused when the health of your mouth is thrown off balance by medication or illness.
Hard, white flat patches that can’t be scraped away could, in serious cases, be a condition called leukoplakia, which may develop into mouth cancer over time. So you should be referred immediately to a dentist or GP if you notice the symptoms.
The NHS website states: “Leukoplakia is a white patch in the mouth. If you have a white patch in the mouth that does not go away, get it checked by a dentist or GP.”
If you have lacy white patches it could be a condition called lichen planus, which is when your immune system attacks the tissue in your mouth.
‘Hair’ or ‘fur’ on your tongue
Often a tongue can have a fur like substance sitting on top of it. Usually white, black or brown in colour it can be an alarming discovery.
It is caused by proteins turning natural lumps and bumps on the tongue into longer strands which get food and bacteria caught in them.
It should be solvable by scraping them off, however if there are hairy white patches you can’t get rid of, it could again be leukoplakia.
If you have taken an antacid it could well have an ingredient called bismuth in it. This can stain the tongue when it mixes with saliva.
It is thought to be harmless and should go away once you’ve stopped taking the medicine.
Bright red tongue
This can be a sign of Kawasaki disease, which is a very serious, rare disease usually found in children that causes the inflation of blood vessels.
It can also be a symptom of scarlet fever.
However, if you find your tongue is smooth and red, alongside pain in your mouth, it could be a sign of a vitamin B3 deficiency.
If it feels like you’ve burned your tongue on a hot drink or you have a recurring metallic taste, this could be a sign of nerve issues. The condition is called burning mouth syndrome and does exactly what it says on the tin.
Other conditions like acid reflux and diabetes can cause this feeling too.
If it looks like your mouth has a glossy texture to it, and no little bumps are present, it could be a sign of a lack of nutrients.
A lack of iron, folic acid and B vitamins can all be the cause of smooth tongue, as can infections, coeliac disease and some medications.
If the patches are smooth but present alongside bumpy patches, it could be a benign condition called geographic tongue.
Bumps on your tongue
The underside of the front of your tongue is a common place for something called canker sores. Small, red and often painful they tend to go away on their own.
If you have a single bump it could be something called a ‘lie bump’, which can be a sign of irritation.
Soreness on your tongue
Tongue soreness is a common condition and can be a indicator of a number of different health issues.
Canker sores and lichen planus are two common sources of soreness, as are geographic tongue and thrush. And, some medications and infections can also cause tongue soreness.
If there is a lump on your tongue and white patches to accompany the soreness it could be a sign of something more serious, so make sure you raise it with your dentist as quickly as possible.
This is a when your tongue is too big for your mouth and can often be identified by tooth imprints on the sides of your tongue.
Causes can be infection, allergies or hypothyroidism which is a condition associated with an under active thyroid.
Deep grooves can form as you age but they can also be a sign of Sjögren’s syndrome or psoriasis.
They are completely harmless, but if you have the condition make sure you gently brush the grooves to clear them of bacteria and food.
Signs of mouth cancer
Sores that don’t heal, tongue pain and lumps, as well as trouble swallowing or chewing can all be signs of cancer.
However, it is important to note that there are milder reasons for these symptoms and you should always speak to your doctor if these persist.
The most common symptom of Covid-19 with oral health is a dry mouth, which is often accompanied by a loss of taste and the development of a fungal infection (thrush).
You can also have changes in tongue sensation and muscle pain when you chew, as well as swelling in the mouth and ulcers on the tongue.