You probably don’t give a lot of thought to your tongue, but like your teeth and gums, it’s a vital part of your oral health. If you develop a problem with your tongue, it could indicate a problem with your oral health that needs treatment.
The following covers what you need to know about your tongue and how it reflects your oral health:
A healthy tongue often looks pink, but it can also look lighter or darker. Tiny bumps called papillae cover it, giving it a rough surface. Your tongue should also feel and look well moistened. When brushing your teeth, you should also brush your tongue to remove any bacteria. This is an ideal time to look at your tongue in the mirror to learn what it usually looks like and be aware of any changes as they occur. If you notice any changes, discuss them with your dentist.
A change in your tongue’s appearance can indicate you have an issue with your oral health or your overall health. The following are some common changes to look out for and what they may be telling you and your dentist:
White Spots: If you see creamy white spots on your tongue, you might have a fungal infection. If they look lacy, you may have lichen planus, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the tissues in your mouth. Flat white areas that are hard and you can’t scrape them away may be linked to oral cancer, so mention these to your dentist if you see them.
Bumps: Small bumps can appear on your tongue for a number of reasons. Transient lingual papillitis, commonly known as “lie bumps,” can form on the tip of your tongue in response to irritation. If the bumps are small, red, and painful, they may be canker sores, especially if they’re located on the underside of your tongue. Bumps on your tongue can also be the result of a virus. However, if you have a painful bump on your tongue that does not go away within a few days, reach out to your dentist.
“Hairy” Tongue: If your tongue has what looks like dark fur on it, dead skin cells may have built up on papillae. They become longer strands that trap food particles, bacteria, tobacco, and other substances. You can usually stop the problem by practicing good oral hygiene, including brushing your tongue every day and using a tongue scraper.
Burning Sensation: If your tongue feels like it’s burning, it could be the result of an infection, acid reflux, dry mouth, or simply consuming too many acidic foods. It may also indicate a nerve issue. For this reason, it’s best to consult your dentist if you experience a burning sensation that does not go away.
Smooth, Shiny Tongue Tissue: A fungal infection can cause smooth and shiny areas of your tongue that may also burn and itch. Your dentist can treat them using antifungal medication. If your tongue has a smooth, glossy appearance, it may also indicate a nutritional deficiency.
Changes in your tongue may indicate an issue with your oral health. If you notice a change that doesn’t go away in 7-10 days, tell your dentist about it. They can effectively treat the problem as soon as possible to restore your oral health. Treatments depend on the cause and may include a medicated rinse or medication to fight fungus. Your dentist may also suggest a change in your oral hygiene habits and or recommend that you stop smoking. If oral cancer is detected, treatments can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or drug therapy.
A quick check in the mirror can help you to catch oral health problems sooner rather than later. If you notice changes in your tongue, take note and discuss it with your dentist.