While our teeth tell us a great deal, it is important to understand other parts of our mouth can signal poor health. By simply examining your tongue, you can learn a great deal about your health. In fact, in Chinese medicine it is believed that the tongue reflects all the diseases of the body.
Here are some specific characteristics of the tongue that you need to be aware of. Changes in color, texture and feeling can be warning signs to take action.
White Coating: When the tongue looks white and pasty, either in patches or all over, it is an indication that there is some sort of infection. Either bacterial overgrowth (thrush) or an autoimmune-related inflammatory disease can produce this.
Sore Spots: You have probably experienced a canker sore or mouth ulcer before. When they occur on the tongue, it can be very painful. Some people have a genetic predisposition to getting canker sores when they get a cold or eat citrus fruit. However, it is important to know that a normal canker sore will heal within 7-10 days. If you have painful sores spots on your tongue that last longer, it could signal oral cancer and you should tell your dentist immediately.
Pale: A pale tongue could mean you have an iron deficiency. Iron helps produce energy and hemoglobin. A diagnostic blood test can confirm anemia. You may need a supplement or to include more leafy greens, beans and meat in your diet.
Bright Red: Your tongue should remain a healthy pink. When it become dark red or bright red, this can mean a nutritional deficiency. A lack of niacin, folic acid or vitamin B12 may be causing this change in color.
Burning: Ever heard of burning mouth syndrome? Although it remains a condition not well understood, it is a very real syndrome. Burning mouth syndrome, also called oral dysesthesia, goes beyond simply eating certain foods that cause a temporary stinging sensation. The condition is characterized by pain and burning that can affect just the tongue or the entire mouth. It is believed to be caused by hormonal changes, dry mouth, nutritional deficiencies or bacterial infections. Treating the suspected cause is most helpful in alleviating the symptoms.
Always tell your doctor or dentist if you are concerned about a sudden change in appearance or feeling of your tongue. While it most likely is nothing to worry about, it is worth the investigation to see what your tongue is trying to tell you. So go ahead, get in front of a mirror and stick your tongue out!