Although your tongue is often claimed as the strongest muscle in the body, it also allows us to taste food, talk, and swallow. A tongue that is pink and covered in small papillae is a healthy tongue.
But because we use our tongue so often, it can be uncomfortable and quite frustrating when we experience tongue issues. These problems can consist of discoloration and soreness. Though there are a variety of causes for common tongue symptoms, a majority of them are not serious and can often be resolved in a short time. Unfortunately, the discolored or painful tongue can be a sign of a more serious condition, including vitamin deficiencies, oral cancer, or even AIDS. Because of this it is very important that if you are unsure of your condition that you see a doctor immediately.
What To Watch For?
There are a few things that can occur that you should be watching out for. They are a white tongue, red or strawberry tongue, black hairy tongue, and a sore or bumpy tongue. Below will be an example of each and what are some possible causes.
These are some of the things you could experience with a white tongue, and can be seen with a whitish coating or white spots developing on the tongue.
- Leukoplakia: This causes the cells in your mouth to grow unreasonably. This will lead to the formation of white patches inside the mouth and often including the tongue, although it is not dangerous by itself it can be a precursor to cancer. If you see something like this you should see a dentist immediately to try and find the cause of such a thing. Often this is found with those that use tobacco products.
- Oral Lichen Planus: If you ever notice a collection of raised white lines on your tongue that appear to be lace-like, then oral lichen planus may be what you have. Unfortunately, doctors often are unable to determine what the real cause of this condition is but it typically just resolves on its own. Proper dental hygiene, limiting your intake of food that can irritate you mouth, and avoiding tobacco seems to help avoid this.
- Oral Thrush: This is a yeast infection that can develop inside your mouth. There are white patches that will form and will typically have the same consistency as cottage cheese. It is more common in infants and the elderly, specially with those that wear dentures or have weak immune systems. Eating plain yogurt with active cultures can help fix this or additional medication may be used to fight off the infection.
If you tongue turns red there are a few reasons as to why this can happen.
- Scarlet Fever: Having a strawberry tongue can occur if you get infected with Scarlet Fever. If you do, be sure to immediately contact a doctor, especially if you have a fever to go with the red tongue. This is because antibiotic treatment is needed for scarlet fever.
- Kawasaki Syndrome: Often seen in children under the age of 5, this disease affects the blood vessels in the body and can results in a red tongue.
- Vitamin Deficiencies: Having a deficiency of vitamin B-12 or folic acids can cause your tongue to have a reddish appearance.
Black Hairy Tongue
This just seems like one of the scariest issues that you could have with your tongue, but in actuality this type of issue tends to be nothing serious. The papillae, the bumps on your tongue, grow over your lifetime. What typically happens is that they are worn down by daily activity, but when they are not they are likely to harbor bacteria. As this bacteria grows the longer papillae will begin to look dark or even black. This in turn begins to look hair-like. Although this is a very uncommon issue it will often happen with people who do not practice good dental hygiene. People who are undergoing chemotherapy or people with diabetes tend to be more susceptible to this.
Sore or Bumpy Tongue
This is probably one of the most broad type of thing that can happen, here are some common issues that would cause a sore or bumpy tongue.
- Trauma: Grinding your teeth can cause you to rub the sides of your tongue raw. Accidentally scalding your tongue or biting it can cause a sore tongue until the wounds heal
- Smoking: This can burn your tongue, or excessive use can irritate it enough to make it sore.
- Canker Sores: Although the cause of these are unknown many people develop this over their lifetime. They can also be worse during times of higher stress
- Oral Cancer: Although most issues with a sore tongue are nothing life threatening, if you have sores or lumps that do not go away within a week or two then you should definitely see a doctor. Even with a lack of pain, oral cancer can still be a factor.