What’s on my tongue?
Bumps, spots, and blemishes in your mouth may be harmless. But sometimes they can indicate what’s going on with your health. Infections, stress, medication problems, and even aging can all leave their mark on your tongue. Find out what your tongue is saying and when to see your doctor or dentist.
Creamy white spots can be a yeast infection (shown here). This usually happens after illness or medication upsets the balance of bacteria in your mouth. Lacy white patches could be lichen planus, which means your immune system is attacking the tissues in your mouth. If you see hard, flat, white patches that can’t be scraped off, it could be leukoplakia associated with cancer. If you see white spots, let your dentist know.
“hair” in your language
If your tongue is covered with what appears to be black, brown, or white hairs, you may have a hairy tongue. These “hairs” are proteins that turn normal, small bumps into long filaments that trap food and bacteria. It should come off when you brush or scrape your tongue. If you have hairy, white patches that can’t be shaved, it could be oral hairy leukoplakia. This can happen to people with a virus such as Epstein-Barr or HIV.
A hairy tongue may be black. But after taking an antacid with an ingredient called bismuth, your tongue may darken. For some people, it turns the tongue black when mixed with saliva. It is harmless and goes away after you stop taking the medicine.
Bright red tongue
A strawberry-red tongue can often be the first sign of Kawasaki disease, a rare and serious disease that inflames all the blood vessels in a child’s body. It is also a symptom of scarlet fever. If your red tongue is smooth and your mouth hurts, this is a sign that your body does not have enough vitamin B3.
If your tongue feels burnt by hot coffee and tastes metallic or bitter, you may have burning mouth syndrome. It could be a nerve problem in your tongue. Certain medical conditions such as dry mouth, infections, acid reflux, and diabetes can also cause it. For some people, acidic foods such as pineapple, toothpaste, mouthwash, candy, and gum can cause mouth burns.
In addition, the tongue may appear glossy red without small bumps. If you don’t get enough of nutrients like iron, folic acid, and B vitamins, you can. Infections, celiac disease, or certain medications can cause it. If you have smooth spots next to convex areas, it could be geographic tongue. Spots may appear, sometimes painful and burning. It is harmless, but it can be associated with psoriasis or dandruff.