Tongue Tales

What Your Tongue Says About You

During a checkup at the Yuba City Dentistry Group, your dentist learns quite a bit about your oral health: the strength of your enamel and the integrity of your teeth; the quality of your gum tissue; whether you show signs of infection or decay. And a thorough screening with the VELscope ensures early detection of oral cancer. But what information does your dentist get from your tongue?

What a Healthy Tongue Looks Like

The tongue averages four inches long and is a collection of eight muscles. Four of those muscles attach to bone, allowing the tongue to change position. However, the other four are not anchored down, which allows them to change the shape of your tongue. You’re trying them out now, aren’t you? Feel free to do so! It’s good exercise.

A healthy tongue has little dot-like bumps called papillae. There are four different types of papillae on your tongue, some of which contain your taste buds. Many of these bumps are visible to the naked eye, especially at the back of the tongue, near the throat.

A healthy tongue is a continuous shade of pink, not any other color. Of course, you might have a whitish residue from plaque or bacteria, and it’s also possible to have a temporary stain of color from foods or drinks, but the tongue itself stays pink. However, if you note your tongue becoming a different color, you might be developing a problem that deserves attention.

White Tongue

If you develop white spots or your whole tongue becomes white, it could indicate an infection called oral thrush. This is commonly seen in adults who wear dentures or have weakened immune systems. It’s also reported by patients with diabetes. A white tongue might also be an indication of oral cancer. White patches on the tongue are also common for leukoplakia, a condition where the cells in the mouth grow excessively due to irritation. Letting your dentist have a look typically leads to identification and treatment.

Red Tongue

If you have a deficiency in folic acid or vitamin B-12, you might notice your tongue darken from pink to red. If you see red patches that look like islands forming on the surface of your tongue, that is a known condition called geographic tongue. It is relatively harmless and not linked to infection or cancer. There is a serious condition, however, that turns the tongue red in children, mostly those under the age of five. The condition is Kawasaki disease, and is associated with high fever and inflamed arteries. If your child has a deep red tongue, contact the Yuba City Dentistry Group or your doctor to seek medical attention.

Black or Hairy Tongue

Papillae on your tongue continue to grow and get replaced throughout your lifetime. Sometimes they grow excessively long and become a breeding ground for bacteria. Although this condition is harmless, it looks terrible. A consistent routine of oral hygiene, along with some time and patience, will remove the condition. If you’d like a more aggressive approach to removing black or hairy tongue, talk to your dentist about using a tongue scraper and which model is best for your situation.

Other Tongue Irritations

If you have a tongue and a pulse, you will eventually end up biting your tongue or burning it on excessively hot foods or drinks. Your tongue will heal within days, but it will be irritated and sore as it does so. Give it a few days, and your tongue should return to its proper pinkness.

However, a consistently sore tongue might point to other issues, like oral cancer (especially if you use tobacco in any form). If your tongue has been sore for two weeks or more, or if you notice abnormal bumps on the surface, contact the Yuba City Dentistry Group for an oral screening. Catching oral cancer in its early stages offers a higher chance of successful treatment.

Your tongue is a wonderful instrument that can say a lot — an average of more than ninety words per minute, in fact. However, your tongue can tell your dentist so much more, without a single syllable. It’s important to keep that line of communication open! Start with a good routine in oral hygiene, dental checkups twice a year, and let your dentist know about anything significantly out of the ordinary that develops with your tongue. Together we can keep your tongue looking and working right for the rest of your life!


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Diana Ricard

Very nice Dentist and friendly staff. Cant wait to start my treatments.