What your tongue says about your health

When you go to the dentist for a check-up, you might be surprised to learn that your dentist will be able to tell quite a bit about your health just by looking at your tongue. The tongue can flag many health ailments, and your dentist can give you a few tips on how to keep it clean and what signs to look out for.

Oral cancers are increasing in Australia due to high rates of alcohol consumption, poor diets and late detection. Recognising the risk factors and signs of oral cancer is vital to better prognosis and outcomes. Early detection of oral cancers can save lives, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for on your tongue and in your mouth as early signs.

Here are some of the most common changes that may happen to your tongue and what to look out for.

White or yellow coating on the tongue

This is the most common issue with tongues and doesn’t always mean something negative. A yellow tongue could be caused by smoking, drinking large amount of coffee and tea or excess bacteria build up. Babies can also have a white coating from milk.

Cleaning your tongue with a tongue scraper will be a way to reduce this bacterium build-up and prevent staining.

White patches

White patches can occur if people are run down or have low immune systems. It could be oral thrush and can occur if someone has been on antibiotics or using asthma inhalers for long periods. It can usually be treated with a mouth gel. If the white patches don’t go away, consult your GP.

Red tongue

If your tongue looks like you’ve been sucking on a red popsicle or lollipop, it could be a sign you’re deficient in vitamins, especially vitamin B12 or iron. Without iron and B12, your tongue won’t have the healthy, glossy appearance it should. Check-in with your doctor to see if you’re deficient in these essential vitamins.

Hairy tongue

Yes, this is can actually happen, but no, it isn’t hair like on your head, but more of a fuzzy, hairy appearance on the tongue. It can happen when there has been a build-up of the protein keratin.   When there’s been a build-up of protein, it can cause the papillae to grow long which gives the tongue a hairy and fuzzy appearance. It’s usually temporary and can be treated very easily.

Ulcers on the tongue

Mouth ulcers are more common than tongue ulcers. They’re usually a result of trauma to the tongue from a bite and will normally go away on their own. However, if they are not going away, you may need a steroid gel or mouth rinse which your dentist can recommend. If symptoms persist after a few weeks, which can be patches, lumps or spots either on the top or underneath side of your tongue, you’ll need to have it looked at by a doctor.

Key risk factors are smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol, and HPV infection. People with tongue cancer might also experience pain when swallowing, numbness in the mouth that doesn’t go away, or unexplained bleeding from the tongue.

Burning tongue

A burning tongue could mean several different factors, from hormonal changes to sensitivity to certain foods or toothpaste. If it reoccurs, it could be burning mouth syndrome, and your dentist will be able to advise on how to treat according to the condition.

Bumpy tongue

Some people have tongues with bumps on the sides, which can be called geographic tongue. Some parts are smooth, and some are bumpy like little hills. Although some people don’t experience any symptoms, some people feel sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods.

Swollen tongue

If your whole tongue is swollen, it might be a sign of allergies to a food or medicine. If the tongue is very red and swollen, it could be a sign of anaemia or a B12 deficiency.

 By spotting mouth and oral cancer early, you can have a high chance of beating it with early diagnosis resulting in 9 out of 10 people beating this type of cancer.

Scaping the tongue can clean it of excess bacteria and staining but if you’re worried about any irregular spots, marks or swelling on your tongue or are experiencing any pain, contact Withers Dental today for a thorough assessment.

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