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What does your tongue say about your health?

The tongue contains many cells of the body’s defense system and it is here that we can see what our tongue says about our health.

By Bio Island Nutrition Team

What does your tongue say about your health?

Our tongues are vital for chewing and swallowing food and of course for speech. It is also a sensory organ responsible for tasting and is the most sensitive place for our sense of touch.

The tongue contains many cells of the body’s defense system and it is here that we can see what our tongue says about our health.

A healthy tongue should be pink and covered in small nodules called papillae.

Infection, stress, medication issues, aging, digestion and deficiencies can make their mark on your tongue.

Any deviation from our tongues normal appearance such as changes in texture, the presence of sores or blemishes and changes in colour maybe pointing to the fact they we need some help.


If your tongue is feeling unnaturally smooth it maybe because of glossitis, inflammation of the tongue. This is primarily caused by nutritional deficiencies, specifically iron and B vitamins.

If your tongue has a coating that looks like fur you could have what is known as hairy tongue. This is due to the papillae growing longer and catches food and bacteria turning the tongue black, brown or white. It can also happen in people who have diabetes, taking medication such as antibiotics or receiving chemotherapy. This should go away if you include tongue scrapping as a part of your dental routine.

You can develop deep groves called fissures on your tongue as you age. They are harmless. It is important that you gently brush your tongue to ensure your removing any food or bacteria that could be present.

Sores & Blemishes.

A trauma to your mouth such as biting or scalding your tongue and in some cases when people grind or clench their teeth can cause your tongue to become irritated until it heals.

A scalloped tongue usually isn’t a sign of anything serious. The ridging indentations on your tongue can be due to pressure or force against the teeth. Any complications from a scalloped tongue may be related to an underlying cause such as sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, a genetic condition such as down syndrome, or anxiety so getting a proper diagnosis is important to make sure your getting the correct treatment.

Many people develop canker sores at one time or another. They are tiny, shallow ulcers that appear in your mouth and on the underside of your tongue. It is believed that stress is a cause and while they are harmless they can make it difficult to eat. Cankers usually go away after a week or two.

For those sores that last longer than a couple of weeks, this could be due to something more serious. A lump or a sore on your tongue may be an indicator for oral cancer. Even without it being painful don’t assume nothing is wrong. Get it checked out by a healthcare professional.

Colour Changes.

Having a coating on your tongue can be common especially while you have a cold or flu, are a smoker or are dehydrated. This is because the toxins are building up causing the discoloration on your tongue. There are many different tongue colours that may indicate more health problems. Below are some common ones;

  • White: A white tongue can indicate several conditions from dehydration, thrush or leukoplakia. While dehydration can be simply rectified, thrush often occurs when yeast infections develops and usually goes away once treatment is received. Leukoplakia is a condition in which the cells in the mouth grow excessively, leading to the white patches on the tongue. This is often seen in smokers. It can be a precursor to cancer so it is always best to consult with your doctor or dentist.
  • Red: A red tongue can also indicate several conditions. If your tongue has a reddish appearance it could be a sign you have deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin B12. More seriously Scarlet fever and Kawasaki disease cause a strawberry-like appearance. This usually occurs in younger children and is accompanied by a fever. This must be treated by a doctor.
  • Yellow: Smoking, dehydration and fevers can cause your tongue to be yellow. Yellow tongue on its own isn’t serious but if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain it could be a sign of poor digestion or liver damage. This must be treated by a doctor.
  • Black: Just like with hairy tongue, this can occur when the papillae on your tongue grow excessively long which makes them more likely to harbour bacteria. This is likely to happen when good dental hygiene isn’t practiced.


Most of the signs about your tongue above are harmless. But if you have any sores that don’t heal, lumps, tongue pain or even have trouble chewing and swallowing that lasts for more then 2 weeks its best to seek medical help from your dentist or doctor.

Everyone should check their tongue on a regular basis to be able to spot any changes that may occur. Getting use to looking at your tongue during your daily brushing can give you an indication of your overall health or signal that you might need to take better care of your oral health.

This information does not take into account your personal situation and is general in nature. You should consider whether the information is appropriate for your needs, and seek professional medical advice.


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