Changes in the feel or look of the tongue can reveal a lot about your health and indicate certain health issues.

Our bodies are the only true home we’ll ever have, so we need to take proper care of them. While we might often ignore or misunderstood them, our body always sends up messages that signal when something out of the ordinary is happening within it.

Therefore, if we learn to follow these guidelines and understand the signs our bodies send, we can treat any health issues on time and prevent major complications. The tongue is often the first place where we should look, as its appearance can reveal a lot about our general health.

Dr. Imogen Bexfield, Medical Director at White Swan Aesthetics explains the look of a normal, healthy tongue:

“The color will vary from person to person, but generally it should be pink with little bumps on it that are called papillae.”

Here are the 7 most common changes in the tongue that indicate that you should consider calling your doctor:

1. White Plaque on your Tongue

The swollen papillae on the tongue lead to plaque, as the debris, bacteria, and dead cells lodged between them create a white coating. This condition is known as papillae hypertrophy or inflammation, and can result from:

Poor oral hygiene
Dry mouth
Mouth breathing
Smoking or other oral tobacco use
Excessive alcohol use
Low roughage diet
Mechanical irritation from sharp tooth edges or dental appliances
2. Geographic Tongue

In this case, the tongue has reddish, smooth patches, surrounded by white borders. It is not contagious, usually causes no symptoms, and does not lead to any long-term health conditions.

It can last for weeks and even years.

Geographic tongue is more common in people who have psoriasis and Reiter’s Syndrome, women who use hormonal birth control, people under emotional stress, in the case of allergies, in diabetics, or in those who have a certain vitamin deficiency.

3. Strawberry Tongue

When the tongue is red, bumpier than usual, with swellings that make it look like a strawberry or raspberry, it might be a sign that you have some of the following conditions:

A food or drug allergy
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Scarlet fever- a bacterial infection which mostly occurs in children aged between 5 and 15, and may develop when a person has strep throat
Kawasaki disease- it causes inflammation of certain arteries and is most common in children
Toxic shock syndrome- it is a rare complication, caused by bacteria, and is usually a result of the use of tampons or nasal gauze packing
Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)- this is a rare complication, which can occur in children infected with COVID-19
4. Black Hairy Tongue

While this condition looks alarming, it is harmless, painless, and temporary. It is a result of the accumulation of dead skin cells on the papillae (tiny projections) on the surface of the tongue. Being longer, they trap tobacco food, yeast, and bacteria, leading to bad breath.

These are the most common causes of it:

Poor oral hygiene
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Regular use of mouthwashes that contain irritating oxidizing agents
Smoking tobacco
Excessive alcohol, coffee, or black tea use
Antibiotic use that had caused changes in the normal bacteria or yeast content of the mouth
Eating a soft diet that does not rub dead skin cells from the tongue


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