Sticking your tongue out at someone can mean anything from stupidity to a sign of disgust. But sticking out your tongue can provide important information about your health.
“The tongue and oral cavity are important for many daily activities, including eating, speaking, chewing, swallowing, breathing, and even dental health,” says ear, nose, and throat specialist Audrey Baker. Banner – Tucson University Medical Center. “It can provide important information about every system in our body.”
Of course, you may notice changes in your teeth and face, but it’s also important to check the color and shape of your tongue. So, go ahead, stick it on and look in the mirror.
If you’re unsure whether your tongue is considered “healthy,” read on to learn what changes to look out for and when to see your health care provider.
The color of your tongue
Your tongue may not look exactly like someone else’s in your family, but a healthy tongue has similarities in color.
“The general color of the tongue should be red to light pink,” says Dr. Baker. “It can be many shades, all normal.”
If your tongue is normally reddish or pink, you may have a health problem. Below are some of the colors your tongue might be and what they mean.
Dark Red to Purple: A dark red to purple tongue can indicate something as simple as a vitamin deficiency, but it can also indicate a fever or infection, such as scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease.
Blue: A blue tongue indicates poor oxygen circulation associated with lung problems.
Yellow: A yellow tongue occurs due to the accumulation of bacteria due to poor oral hygiene, smoking, alcohol, coffee consumption, and dry mouth.
Black: A black tongue (it even looks hairy!) can be caused by certain antibiotics, diabetes, poor oral hygiene, or smoking. Additionally, Pepto-Bismol temporarily darkens your tongue. “Fortunately, this is not common and can usually be resolved with good dental hygiene,” says Dr. Baker.
White: A white tongue indicates a fungal infection of the oral mucosa. It can indicate dehydration or can sometimes be caused by a benign condition such as leukoplakia, which can be cancerous.
The structure and form of your language
Just as your tongue can be different in color, so can your appearance and shape. Your language may seem more slurred than others, but that doesn’t mean you need to call your healthcare provider.
However, here are some things to consider when evaluating the form and structure of your language.
Chipped edges or sunken tooth marks: This is usually normal and related to how the tongue sits on the teeth, but it can also be caused by TMJ and nighttime grinding.
Painful bumps or sores: Tongue pain can be caused by biting, smoking, cancer, or oral cancer.
Red or white bumps: If you develop white or red bumps on your tongue, this could indicate early or advanced tongue cancer and should be seen by your health care provider immediately. “Many tongue lesions are benign and resolve on their own,” notes Dr. Baker. “If it doesn’t go away in a few weeks, it’s best to get your tongue checked.”
Thin tongue: If you have a very thin tongue, it could indicate dehydration.
What does your tongue say about your health?
Make regular tongue checks a part of your daily brushing routine. If you notice changes that don’t go away within a few weeks, make an appointment with your healthcare provider or dentist.