In addition to helping you speak and chew, your tongue can also give your dentist clues about your oral health as well as your bodily health. During your dental exam, your dentist will check your tongue for signs of problems, which could be indicative of infections and even cancer. Here’s what your tongue can tell you—and your dentist—about your dental health.
Having a red or shiny-looking tongue could mean you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, namely iron or B vitamins, or it could be indicative of an illness or allergy. Getting all the nutrients your body and smile need to stay healthy is important. After all, iron helps keep teeth strong and gums healthy, while B vitamins may play a role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease .
A tongue that has a white, creamy appearance or patches can indicate an infection called oral thrush. Although it’s more common in babies, older patients, and immunocompromised individuals, oral thrush is an uncomfortable infection that requires antibiotic treatment to go away. Symptoms of oral thrush, including lesions on the tongue or a burning sensation, typically start on the tongue and can progress to the other soft tissues of the oral cavity .
Poor Oral Hygiene
Although not generally bad for your oral health, a tongue that appears yellow or feels fuzzy may mean a buildup of bacteria. You should be cleaning your tongue just like you clean your teeth by gently brushing it. Bacteria can accumulate on the tongue and may contribute to bad breath or plaque formation . Your dentist will let you know if you need to focus more on brushing your tongue during your next visit.
There is such a thing called hairy tongue, in which the tiny bumps that are naturally on your tongue, called papillae, grow longer than they should and give the tongue a dark and hair-like appearance. Hairy tongue can be indicative of poor oral hygiene, but it can also be the result of diabetes, tobacco use, or certain medications . Tongue cleaning can help prevent hairy tongue in some cases.
What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?
A healthy tongue is generally pink and is covered in papillae, and should not be sore or uncomfortable. If your tongue is sore or any color other than pink, including white, red, or yellow—or even has a darker appearance—it might be time to follow up with your dentist to see what could be causing the unusual color. How healthy is your tongue? Find out during your next dental checkup!