Tongue Health

Our gums and teeth are super important but one part of our oral healthcare that gets forgotten is our tongue health.

Our tongue can give us a heads up on chronic and acute illnesses.  The tongue often gives us the first sign that our overall health is not doing too well.

A normal looking tongue should be pink to red but not bright red and should have bumps and waves on it.  Anything else can be a sign of a health condition that may need to be looking into.

Our tongue can give us early indications of issues such as cancer, diabetes, celiac disease, vitamin deficiencies and even stress.

A sore and bumpy tongue

If you’ve got a sore tongue or bumps on your tongue these could be from;

  • Smoking
  • Biting your tongue
  • Burnt tongue from food or liquids
  • Mouth ulcers (cancer sores)
  • Cancer

Not all oral cancers cause pain so any lumps or bumps that do not go away within a couple of weeks should be looked at by your doctor.

White tongue

When you are ill you can get a white film over your tongue, this is often not cause for concern. White tongue is the most common issue that can affect an otherwise healthy tongue.


Most cases of Lukoplakia are benign and diagnosed by your dentist, however, some forms can lead to cancer.  Lukoplaskia consists of thick white patches on the tongue and in the mouth.  This is not a fugus like oral thrush and is caused by cell overgrowth in your mouth.

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is caused by the Candida Albicans Fungus creating a thick white to green cottage cheese like patches on the inside of the cheeks and on the tope of the tongue.  It can be quite painful but is most common in these groups;

  • Older adults
  • Babies and toddlers
  • Diabetics
  • Denture users
  • Those who use inhaled steroids for asthma and COPD

If you have oral thrush please visit your doctor where they can offer advice on how to avoid getting this again and offer medication.

Red tongue

Many conditions can cause red tongue, here are a few;

  • Geographic tongue – red patches with white borders, hence the name and is usually nothing to worry about and could move about over time.  It effects 1 to 2.5% of people in all age groups.
  • Vit B deficiencies – usually redness caused by a deficiency in folic acid (vit b-9) and cobalamin (vit b12).  Once the deficiency is resolve the appearance of the tongue will improve.
  • Kawasaki disease – a very serious condition that is most common in the under 5s.  It causes a strawberry like appearance of the tongue and a high fever.  In some cases this disease increases the risk of heart complications so should be treated early. 
  • Scarlet fever – another serious condition that requires treatment promptly.  Again the tongue will appear to have what looks like strawberries on top of it and can also have large bumps.  It could also be sore.  Scarlet fever coincides with strep throat.

Yellow tongue

A less serious issue is when your tongue is a yellow colour – Primarily caused by bacterial overload.  Other causes can also be;

  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco – but who does that??
  • Certain vitamins that you could be taking
  • Psoriasis
  • Jaundice – however this is quite rare

Black, hairy tongue

This sounds concerning and pretty impossible but it is a thing and is usually pretty harmless.  Overgrowth of bacteria on the tongue is usually the cause.  Your tongue will be dark yellow, brown or black and also give off a hairy appearance where something called he papillae have multiplied.  This can develop from;

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Antibiotic intake
  • Diabetes
  • Chemo treatments

With all of the above in mind, regular dental check ups are imperative as well as seeing your doctor if you feel like something in your mouth or that of your children is not right.  Any pain or discolouring should be looked at.  Your doctor and/or dentist may prescribe you the following;

  • Anti-inflammatory medication for Kawasaki disease
  • Vit b12 supplementation for deficiency
  • Folic acid supplementation for deficiency
  •  Antibiotics for scarlet fever
  • Antifungals for oral thrush

Geographic tongue, white tongue, black hairy tongue and yellow tongue do not usually require treatment in the medical sense.  Better oral practices and a regular dental routine such as the below may resolve the issue without need for medical attention;

  • Cleanse the tongue with our tongue cleaner
  • Floss and/or use interdentals to keep the gums healthy
  • Use our manual or electric toothbrush alongside our toothpaste to cleanse your teeth, gums and entire oral cavity.

Dental issues such as the above are becoming more common as we are seeing our dentists less and less and putting up with pain when we don’t need to so please please do get things looked at if you feel that they are not right.  It’s probably nothing but it’s better to know and catch things early.

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