5 Health Warnings to Watch for on Your Tongue

Healthy Tongue

A healthy tongue is slightly pink, moist and covered in papillae

Your tongue helps you talk and eat. But what does your tongue say about your health? Could you be ignoring serious health warnings?

A healthy tongue is slightly pink in color, moist, and covered with tiny projections called papillae.

But when your tongue becomes discolored, swollen, stiff, sore or displays unusual features, take notice – your tongue is trying to tell you something.

Sometimes a change in our tongue is a simple vitamin deficiency or merely a sign you need to pay a little more attention to dental hygiene. But it can also be a sign of something more serious.

Take a close look at your tongue in the mirror right now, then compare what you find with these tongue health warnings:

#1:  White Tongue

White Leukoplakia Tongue

Excessive cell growth can cause white patches called leukoplakia

Do you notice a whitish coating or white spots on your tongue? It could be one of the following health warnings:

  • Dehydration — Are you staying properly hydrated? Dehydration can cause a white coating to develop on the tongue. Simply drink more water to remedy this condition.
  • Oral thrush — Thrush is a yeast infection (Candida) that appears as whitish, velvety sores on your tongue and the mucus membrane lining of your mouth. Thrush is most common in infants and the elderly, denture wearers, and people with compromised immune systems. Antibiotic use also makes you more susceptible to thrush.
  • Leukoplakia — Leukoplakia refers to an excessive growth of cells leading to white patches inside the mouth and on the tongue, most commonly found after the tongue has been irritated and linked to tobacco use. While leukoplakia is usually harmless it can be a precursor to cancer.

#2:  Black Hairy Tongue

Black Hairy Tongue

Black hairy tongue is an especially disgusting looking tongue disorder

Black hairy tongue can affect anyone, but antibiotic use, smoking, drinking a lot of coffee, and dehydration all increase your likelihood of developing this unsightly disorder.

When the small bumps on the surface of your tongue, called papillae, grow longer than normal they are more likely to harbor bacteria and yeast as well as become stained by the foods and drinks you consume and tobacco you use. These stains and bacterial buildup can darken the papillae making the overgrown papillae appear hair-like.

The good news: black hairy tongue is an unsightly but harmless condition that usually goes away on its own. Gently brush your tongue with a soft toothbrush or tongue scraper a couple times a day to help eliminate it faster.

#3:  Red or Strawberry Tongue

Red Strawberry Tongue

Strawberry tongue along with high fever is an urgent health warning

Has your tongue taken on the appearance of a strawberry with enlarged, red taste buds dotting the surface? Possible reasons for the change include:

  • Kawasaki disease – Typically appearing in children under age five, Kawasaki disease (KD) can also affect older children and teens. KD is a serious disorder which causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. The strawberry tongue often appears along with a high fever. Seek medical attention when a red tongue accompanies a high fever.
  • Scarlet fever – This streptococcal infection  can cause a strawberry tongue. Again, contact your doctor immediately if you have a high fever and red tongue.
  • Vitamin deficiencies – Check your diet. Deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin B-12 can also cause your tongue to take on a reddish appearance. Easily remedied with a quality supplement.

#4:  Bumps, Lumps, and Sore Tongue

Is your tongue sore? Are you experiencing painful bumps on the surface? It could be caused by any of the following:

  • Increased stress can cause canker sores to develop and worsen.
  • Smoking can irritate your tongue and make it sore.
  • Trauma can occur from biting your tongue or scalding it on something hot.
  • A burning sensation sometimes affects post-menopausal women.
  • Enlarged papillae, due to an irritated taste bud, can swell and become painful.
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes and anemia can cause a sore tongue.
  • Oral cancer is a possibility. Consult a doctor if a lump or sore lasts longer than two weeks. 

#5:  Numbness or Tingling Sensations

What about the absence of feeling and sensation in your tongue?

Numbness or tingling sensations most commonly occur due to some type of damage to your nervous system. Damage to the nerve that supplies the tongue has been reported as a complication of dental procedures or surgery such as wisdom tooth extraction, implants, or root canal procedures.

Some brain conditions such as a stroke can also damage the nerves leading to the tongue leading to numbness, tingling or other loss of sensation.

How to Get and Keep a Healthy Tongue

If you’re serious about good tongue health, then you should know that brushing and flossing your teeth aren’t enough. You need to clear bacteria from your tongue, too. Either use a tongue scraper or gently brush your tongue with a soft toothbrush twice a day to help maintain good tongue health.

More Tips for a Healthy Tongue

  • Quit smoking and using tobacco products
  • Brush twice a day and floss on a regular basis
  • Gargle with salt water
  • Eat organic yogurt with natural probiotics
  • Reduce alcohol intake
  • Rinse your mouth after you eat

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PubMed Health. Thrush. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2011 Aug 24.

Oral Health Center. Tongue Problem Basics. WebMD.

Wadyka S. What Your Tongue is Telling You About Your Health. MSN Health & Fitness. 2011 Feb 26.

Numbness or Tingling Sensation in the Tongue Symptoms. MedicineNet.com.

Tongue Problems. The New York Times. 2011 Mar 5.


Filed Under: General Health
Written By:

Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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8 thoughts on “5 Health Warnings to Watch for on Your Tongue”

  1. Patricia Grace says:

    I have had a very cracked tongue for quite a few years. No doctor can give me an answer. I avoid eating anything that is very spicy or eat chilli. About 9 years ago my girlfriend and I went to Cape York for 2 weeks. My friend had been suffering from Leukemia for 14 years. At the start of the second week she developed septicemia and died a couple of days later. A little while after that I developed a dry mouth and very dry lips and then the cracked tongue.
    Do you have an answer?

  2. Admin says:

    Hi Patricia,

    Thank you for your query. We would suggest the following:-

    Step 1: Educate yourself about your condition. Google the term “Cracked Tongue” why, how, treatment…
    Step 2: Find a naturopath that understands the condition, that may mean that you will have to call many to find the one that understands…
    Step 3: Take Action…

    Thank you

  3. Merrill Freeze says:

    I’m very happy to read this. This is the kind of details that needs to be given and not the poor misinformation that is at the other blogs. I appreciate your sharing this.

  4. jaime gonzalez says:

    Hello Patricia, since I do not have a complete medical history and I have never looked at your tongue, please take this advice as a wild guess and not a diagnosis. You may want to goggle fissured tongue. Let me know if this suggestion helped.

  5. Mikie says:

    Sjogren’s Syndrome can cause the tongue to turn white and cause mouth and tongue sores too. This may be more prominent than dry eyes.

  6. Mary says:

    very interesting information. several years ago my tongue had like brown fur on it,I say for about 2 weeks and cleared up on its own and has never happened again. your thoughts on that would be appreciated.

  7. Katherine says:

    There is another thing to watch out for. For no reason you can fathom your tongue, fingers and toes turn white, cold, and quite painful. This is Raynaud’s Syndrome, which I suffer from. It was a while before I asked my doctor about this. She sent me to a specialist who knew right off what this condition is. If my body core temperature drops too far this I get the painful tongue, fingers and toes because blood leaves these extremities to keep my core warm. The frightening thing is that if it happens too much I could develop gangrene and lose parts of fingers, toes and tongue. Not a prospect I look forward to! You can take medication for this condition.

  8. Kelly Sdanowich says:

    Thank you for the information it is very helpful.

    Can you tell me why some nights I wake up itching all over and the skin has red blotches or streaks? No bed bugs. There are little black spots on sheet sometimes that look like pepper but do not move. Am I allergic to something I do not wash clothes with any fragrance detergent. My scalp itches too from puritus. Do. you have any solution for me?

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