Your tongue plays an important function – that’s why your doctor or dentist tells you to “stick out your tongue” to examine its health. It is a vital muscle in the body that serves as a gateway to digesting your food as well as discerning the taste and texture of what you eat. When looking at your tongue, doctors and dentists can see the health of various internal organs and areas within your body by examining the different areas of the tongue. The color of your tongue, its shape and its texture plays a vital role in your overall health and particularly your oral health.
Although most of us take our tongue for granted, it provides a great diagnostic tool for monitoring your overall health on a day to day basis. That’s why it’s so important you get an annual dental examination. It’s not only the health of your teeth, bones and gums we look at – we analyze your tongue for any pre-cursors of illness.
The Purpose Of Your Tongue
Chinese medicine believes that the tongue actually reflects all the diseases of the body. The tongue is an important muscle in your body that is lined with moist pink tissue called mucosa. It is covered with tiny bumps called papillae that make the surface of your tongue seem rough. It also contains thousands of taste buds that send messages to the brain that tells whether your food is sweet, sour, butter or salty.
The tongue is basically a digestive organ which in conjunction with your cheeks keeps your food between your upper and lower teeth before it is chewed. The tongue is mobile and it is this flexibility which allows for speech.
A Healthy Tongue
- Color. A healthy tongue should be a warm, pale red or pinkish color, evidence that a healthy blood flow is reaching the tongue.
- Shape. The tongue should neither be too flabby nor stiff. It should have no cracks, and is neither swollen or thin.
- Coating. A healthy tongue should have a thin transparent coating.
- Moist. The tongue is slightly moist, neither too dry or too wet.
- Veins. The veins underneath the tongue should be barely visible and ideally not dark blue or purple.
If you want your tongue to stay healthy, dentists suggest brushing your tongue with either a toothbrush or a tongue scraper.
Common Symptoms Of An Unhealthy Tongue
- Thrush (candidiasis): If your tongue is white and pasty, it may be an indication of an infection present on the tongue, such as a bacterial overgrowth or an autoimmune-related inflammatory. It is usually treated with anti-fungal drugs (either topical or oral). Thrush can occur in almost anyone, but it occurs more often in people taking steroids or with suppressed immune systems, the very young, and the elderly. A white tongue could also be an indication of a yeast infection or dehydration.
- Oral cancer: A growth or ulcer appears on the tongue and grows steadily. Oral cancer is more common in people who smoke and/or drink alcohol heavily.
- Pale tongue can be an indication of a Vitamin B deficiency.
- Canker sores: A canker sore is a small ulcer on your tongue or lips that can be painful and are not contagious. Although the cause is unknown they are not related to the cold sores caused by the herpes virus. Canker sores often occur because of a genetic predisposition, having a cold or fever, eating an excess of citrus fruits, or biting your tongue.
- Black hairy tongue: This sounds worse than it is and is quite harmless. A hairy tongue can be caused by dry mouth, medications such as antibiotics, a bacterial infection, a soft diet or poor oral hygiene. A normal canker should heal up and vanish in a week to 10 days. If it doesn’t, see your dentist – it could be an early sign of oral cancer.
- Lichen planis can effect the skin or mouth. Although the cause is unknown it looks like a rash in the lining of the mouth.
- Burning mouth/burning tongue syndrome: a relatively common problem. The tongue feels burned or scalded, or strange tastes or sensations develop. Apparently harmless, burning mouth syndrome may be caused by a mild nerve problem.
- Bald tongue: Also called glossitis, this condition generally results in soreness or inflammation. Glossitis is often caused by nutritional deficiencies and may be painless or cause discomfort.
- Oral leukoplakia: White patches appear on the tongue that can’t be scraped off. Leukoplakia may be benign, or it can progress to oral cancer.
Want to see what your tongue tells you when you’re not talking? Take this quiz to tell you what Chinese medicine says about it.
The tongue is used for tasting, swallowing, and chewing food. The tongue is also used to form words for speaking. Your tongue never gets a rest, because even when you are sleeping your tongue pushes saliva into the mouth so you can swallow. From the color, to the coating, and even the shape and texture, a tongue can not only tell you how healthy you are, but it can also tell you what vitamins and nutrients you may be not eating enough of. A tongue is a good measure of the well-being of your body.
The next time you brush your teeth, take a hard look at your tongue and see what it’s telling you.
About the Author:
Dr. Oleg Klempner and his staff at Park Dental Brooklyn have served the greater New York area for more than 20 years and are dedicated to providing a superior dental experience. In addition to general dentistry services, such as routine cleaning, fillings, root canals, and more, Park Dental Brooklyn provides numerous cosmetic procedures, including veneers, inlays and onlays, whitening, and Invisalign, among others. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 718.573.3333 or visit www.parkdentalbk.com