×
What the Color of the Tongue Indicates About One's Health

What the Color of the Tongue Indicates About One's Health

Most of the conditions the discoloration could be pointing towards are harmless and can be improved with better oral hygiene.

There are many times when some of the visible signs of being unwell are missed by us. We might be unaware that our body is trying to communicate with us. It could also be that you noticed a different color or texture on your tongue recently and got freaked out by it.

"I have had patients that noticed a color change on the tongue and Googled what it means, and scared themselves silly by finding really dangerous conditions, when the real cause was that they took a medication for an upset stomach that changed the tongue color for a few hours," said Dr. Lee Gause, DDS, founder and dentist at Smile Design Manhattan, to Men's Health.

However, not all color changes should be ignored. They could mean different things and being aware of them helps. It also helps to know what a healthy tongue looks like. A healthy tongue would be pink in color, according to Healthline, and if you think yours isn't so, you might want to find out what is causing the change in the color of your tongue.

Here are four colors your tongue shouldn't have:

1. Black

Source: Illustration

If your tongue looks black, it could be because of build-up of bacteria or if you smoke regularly. It could have a black and hairy look and it happens due to overgrown papillae, as per Cleveland Clinic. It can also happen due to diabetes, antibiotics, chemotherapy, and poor dental hygiene. "Treatment: good oral hygiene, including brushing three times a day, flossing, and not smoking,” Dr. Gause said to Men's Health. Also, if people continue to smoke they should get one or two extra cleanings per year.

"An electric toothbrush is a great add-on to help patients achieve a cleaner mouth," he adds. "Brushing of the tongue should occur every time you brush your teeth, and smokers and nonsmokers alike should use a tongue scraper, which can be bought over the counter to keep buildup off the tongue."

A certain type of medication can also cause the black tongue and it's called Pepto-Bismol. "Pepto-Bismol, which contains bisthmus, can also turn the surface of the tongue black,” says Dr. Jon Marashi.

2. White 

Source: Illustration

There could be multiple reasons behind the white discoloration of the tongue. It could be because of oral thrush (yeast infection). You would see a coating like cottage cheese in this case. The elderly, people with diabetes, infants, people who wear dentures, or those with weakened immunity are at risk of this. It could also be caused by leukoplakia, in which case it will look like white patches. This can happen due to irritation usually caused by using tobacco products. This can often be a cancer precursor, says Cleveland Clinic. Another reason could be oral lichen planus, which is an inflammatory disease.

3. Red

Source: Illustration

If you see redness on your tongue ( and not dark pink) it could be due to B vitamin deficiency. This can be fixed by consuming supplements but you should consult your doctor before you go about it. A red tongue can also signify scarlet fever, eczema, and Kawasaki disease. If you see red patches with white borders on your tongue, it could be a harmless condition called geographic tongue, according to Healthline.

4. Yellow

Source: Illustration

If your tongue looks yellowish, it could be a sign of liver or stomach problems, said Dr. Marashi to Men's Health. "A yellow tongue can be the gradual start of disease, leading to a brown or black-colored tongue down the line," he said. However, that's not the only reason. "The most common causes of a yellow tongue can be poor dental hygiene, smoking, or certain medications,” he said. If you improve your dental hygiene, this should usually be solved but if it doesn't, you should see a medical professional.

Some more changes in your tongue that can indicate health changes: 

1. Ridges 

Source: Illustration

If you see ridges on your tongue, it could be because your teeth are pressing onto it while you sleep. This can also happen due to macroglossia, which is an inflammation or abnormal enlargement of the tongue. Since the tongue is enlarged, it can lead to compression against teeth, which causes scalloping or ridges. You might have these due to teeth grinding, cheek sucking, and picking at the teeth, according to Medical News Today.

2. Bumps 

Source: Illustration

If you see bumps on your tongue, it could be because of canker sores or herpes (cold sores), as per UPMC Health Beat. If you have canker sores, these will be painful, red bumps. However, they are not contagious and can get better within 10 days, as per Healthline.

3. Webbed or striped

Source: Illustration

A webbed or striped look can be caused due to oral lichen planus. This is a chronic condition where the immune system attacks your cells of the oral mucous membranes for unknown reasons, as per Cleveland Clinic. This can cause burning, pain, or other discomforts, as per Mayo Clinic.

References: 

https://www.menshealth.com/health/a23744710/tongue-color-causes/

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-colors-tongue-not-infographic/

https://www.healthline.com/health/tongue-color#other-colors

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320428#causes

https://share.upmc.com/2015/06/tongue-health-infographic/

https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/tongue-bumps#canker-sores

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oral-lichen-planus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350869

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Recommended for you