Five Things Your Tongue Says About Your Health

Posted on 5/26/2014 by Gregory A. Williams
Woman brushing her tongueWhile you might think of your tongue like the doorman of your mouth – there to welcome all that would enter – it can actually serve as a wonderful diagnostic tool.

You don't need to wait until your next appointment with Tigard, Oregon kids dentist Dr. Williams to find out if you're suffering from an oral health problem, just open wide and take a look into the mirror. Regularly inspecting the health and appearance of your tongue can help to detect oral issues – as well as potential health concerns in other parts of the body – before they develop into something more serious. So stick your tongue out and give yourself a quick checkup.

Swollen White/Grey Balloon Under the Tongue

What it could mean: You could be suffering from a clogged salivary gland. When this happens, something has blocked the small ducts so they can't drain saliva, resulting in swelling, the build up of fluid and pain. One of the most common causes of clogged ducts, salivary stones consist of calcium deposits similar to a kidney stones. If the swelling and discoloration doesn't subside within a few days, schedule an appointment with Dr. Williams – you may need to surgery to have the deposit removed.

Sores With Halos

What it could mean: A healthy tongue appears pink and feels relatively smooth to the touch with no bumps or lumps. If you notice any whitish or red patches, a spot surrounded by a red ring, white areas with a lace-like pattern, or a sore that doesn't heal, contact Dr. Williams immediately, as these could be a sign of oral cancer. While rates of other types of cancer have declined in recent years, the prevalence of oral cancer has grown by roughly 25 percent over the last 10 years, potentially as a result of the increased rise in human papilloma virus (HPV), a known risk factor for oral cancers.

Red, Thick Tongue

What it could mean: Start by examining your diet, as you could be suffering from a vitamin deficiency. Your tongue ranks as one of the first places in the body a vitamin B12 deficiency becomes noticeable. The vitamin serves a vital role in creating healthy red blood cells, and suffering from lower levels can cause anemia. With that disease, your tongue may begin to feel sore and appear "beefier" than before.

If you eat a diet typical of most Americans, you're probably receiving plenty of B12 since the vitamin is found in eggs, fish, milk, poultry and meat. However, if you subscribed to a vegan or vegetarian diet or suffer from a digestive disorder such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, you may not be getting enough B12 in your diet. Consider taking a multivitamin or increasing the number of fortified foods in your diet to compensate.

Black, Hairy Tongue

What it could mean: Were you recently on antibiotics? A course of antibiotic treatment could disrupt the normal bacteria in the mouth, resulting in an overgrowth that forms on small round projections on your tongue known as papillae. Instead of falling off as usual, the papillae can grow and give your tongue the appearance of being a little hairy. Fortunately, the condition – while unsettling – is largely harmless and should go away on its own.


What it could mean: Of the symptoms listed here, swelling of the tongue requires the most immediate medical attention, since it could be the result of an allergic reaction. In these instances, your tongue isn't actually swelling at all, rather that is occurring behind the tongue is actually pushing it forward, making it appear larger. Without immediate treatment, swelling in the mouth could block your airway and become life threatening.

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