Your Tongue: A Diagnostic Tool For Oral and Systemic Issues?

I’ll bet you’re among those people who think your tongue was designed only to help you chew, taste and process the foods you eat and the fluids you drink.  I know that was pretty much my take on this particular oral body part.  However, I recently read an article that has completely changed that opinion and I would like to share what I learned with you.  Today, we are going to talk about how the tongue is a diagnostic tool for your oral as well as systemic health.

You Can Detect Issues

The great thing about this diagnostic tool called your tongue is that you don’t necessarily need your dentist or doctor to see problems and changes that could result in deeper issues with your health.  All you have to do is get in front of your bathroom mirror and stick out your tongue to see some changes that may require medical attention.  I will briefly discuss some things that you would want to look for when you inspect your tongue — these things could help you avoid more serious problems later.

  • Swollen grey / white balloon under your tongue:  This could signal a blocked or clogged salivary gland.  This happens when something clogs the tiny opening in the gland and fluid buildup and swelling result.  Sometimes it can be a salivary stone — similar to a kidney stone that is composed of calcium.  You may have to see your Dentist for removal if it doesn’t go away in a few days.
  • Sores with halos around them: The description of a healthy tongue is pink and relatively smooth without lumps or bumps.  If your tongue doesn’t look that way; if you see red or white patches, a spot surrounded by a red ring, white areas that look like a lace pattern or a sore that doesn’t heal, then you should contact your dental professional right away.  These signs could be a alert for skin cancer.
  • Red, thick tongue:  This one could be a result of your diet.  If you have a vitamin deficiency, especially a B12 deficiency, your tongue will be one of the first places to show it.  Vitamin B12 is essential for creating healthy red blood cells and, when these levels are below normal, anemia can happen.  If you are anemic, your tongue could feel sore and appear thick and “beefy”.  If you are on a vegetarian diet or have celiac or Crohn’s disease, you may not be getting enough foods to keep your B12 levels up to par.
  • Black, hairy-looking tongue:  If you have taken oral antibiotics recently, the normal bacterial climate in your mouth can be disrupted.  This can cause an accelerated growth of the tiny round projections on your tongue called papillae.  They normally slough off but in this environment they will grow and give your tongue a furry or hairy look.
  • Swelling:  This sign could signal an allergic reaction and requires immediately attention.  The importance and urgency of this sign isn’t so much the swelling of the tongue but rather the swelling of the airway that lies behind the tongue.  This can push the tongue forward and make it appear larger.  Without quick treatment, this swelling could block your airway and could become a life-threatening situation pretty quickly.
  • Dry, white gloss tongue:  Xerostomia, or dry mouth, happens when the mouth simply doesn’t produce sufficient saliva.  The uncomfortable dryness that results affects the balance of the bacterial environment in your mouth which can change the color and appearance of your tongue.  If this remains untreated, it can cause gum disease and tooth decay due to the fact that saliva is responsible for providing minerals that help to keep your teeth and other oral tissues healthy.

If you note any of these conditions during your routine mouth inspections, be sure to consult your dental professional for guidance.  Your Periodontist on Long Island can identify and treat these conditions as well as gum and periodontal disease in any member of your family.  Call Dr. Scharf at (631)661-6633 or visit him on the web at and let him tell you how he can treat gum disease with a laser instead of a scalpel.

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