How the color of your tongue could indicate a health issue
Have you checked your tongue lately? You already know the tongue is vital for eating and speaking, but looking at it closely can actually reveal a lot about your health.
“It may seem strange or irrelevant for your doctor to request a look at your tongue,” says Dr. Steven Fox, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “But the tongue’s color and texture could potentially indicate a health issue that may otherwise go undetected.”
A healthy tongue should be pink with small bumps, called papillae, covering the surface, explains Dr. Fox. If you notice deviations in its appearance like those listed below, let your physician know.
- White tongue: A white appearance, white bumps or white patches on the tongue can be a sign of oral thrush (a yeast infection) or leukoplakia, a condition often found in those who use tobacco products.
- Bright red tongue: If your tongue is more red than usual, it could mean you’re lacking in iron and B vitamins. More seriously, a red tongue could also indicate scarlet fever (an infection requiring antibiotics) or Kawasaki disease, which is most common in young children and usually accompanied by a fever.
- Black and hairy tongue: The papillae on your tongue can grow so much that it looks like your tongue has hair. While this is not a serious medical condition, it can trap bacteria and be pretty unpleasant to the eye. The best way to avoid this is to practice good oral hygiene, not smoke and eat a healthy diet.
“Take an extra few seconds when you’re brushing your teeth to check out your tongue,” says Dr. Fox. “If you notice anything out of the ordinary, give your physician a call.”
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.