For how much space your tongue takes up in your mouth, you probably don’t think about it much. Your dentist does, though. Your tongue can be a window into not only your oral health but also your general overall health. Many conditions, vitamin deficiencies, and even oral cancer can be detected from the condition of your tongue, which is another reason why regular dental care is imperative to maintaining your general health. Most of the conditions that cause tongue changes are treatable, so if you notice any of the changes below, contact us to book an appointment for evaluation.
- White coating on the tongue: This is the most common change people notice and is usually not a sign of a more serious condition.
- If your entire tongue is coated in white, chances are it’s just a buildup of debris and bacteria. This should brush away easily. Don’t forget to brush your tongue while brushing your teeth, as regular tongue brushing will prevent this white coating from accumulating.
- If your tongue only has patches of white coating, it’s likely to be an infection called Candida (yeast). We all have Candida in our mouths, but when it becomes overgrown it can cause problems. Candida can also be seen in people who take oral or inhaled steroids (like asthma or COPD medications) and people who have recently taken antibiotics. It’s treated with anti-fungal medication, which often comes in mouthwash form.
- If the white patches extend beyond your tongue and into the rest of your mouth, you may have leukoplakia. This is caused by excessive cell growth and is often seen in people who smoke or drink alcohol excessively. This condition itself is not dangerous, but could potentially lead to oral cancer, so evaluation by a dentist in this scenario is highly recommended.
- Deep red colouring on the tongue: Often called ‘strawberry tongue’, along with the redness you might notice swelling and a bumpy appearance.
- If your tongue is simply red and is not swollen or bumpy, you may have a vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency. This can be verified with blood work and is easily treated by adding supplements to your diet.
- If you notice a red, bumpy tongue on your child, usually under the age of 5, along with red eyes, a fever, rash and peeling skin, you should seek medical attention immediately. This could be Kawasaki disease, which is a serious condition that causes inflammation in the arteries and requires prompt medical attention. If there is fever, a rash, and red lines in the folds of the skin, it’s more likely to be Scarlet Fever, which can develop after strep throat. It also requires medical attention but is not as serious as Kawasaki disease.
- If you have irregularly shaped, red, smooth spots on the surface of your tongue, sometimes with a white border around them, you may have geographic tongue. Other signs also include sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods. Lesions will often heal in one spot, only to appear in another. Fortunately, geographic tongue is completely harmless and will eventually go away without treatment.
- If your tongue turns red and becomes swollen after consuming a certain food or taking a certain medication, you are likely suffering from an allergic reaction. If your breathing is not affected, taking an over-the-counter antihistamine medication will often resolve this issue. If your throat also feels like it’s swollen and you have trouble breathing normally, you may be having an anaphylactic allergic reaction and should seek medical attention immediately.
- Soreness or lumps: A tender tongue or a new lump can be alarming. There are many things that could cause lumps, sores, and tenderness on your tongue.
- Canker sores, while not contagious, are painful and can occur not just on your tongue, but anywhere in your mouth. They are thought to be stress-induced and will usually resolve after a week or two.
- Trauma can cause sores and pain. We’ve all felt the pain of an accidental tongue bite, and dealing with it while it heals can be frustrating. Taking a bite of extremely hot food can cause a blister on your tongue, which can be just as painful as biting it, and can take as long to heal as well. If you wake up with a sore tongue, you may be grinding or clenching your teeth during sleep. If this is the case, we can design a nightguard for you to eliminate the problem.
- If you have a lump or sore on your tongue that can’t be attributed to trauma or a canker sore and doesn’t heal within 2 weeks, you should contact us to book an evaluation, even if it’s not painful. This could be a sign of oral cancer, and early detection is the key to a favourable outcome.
These are just a few of the ways your tongue can say a lot about your health. If you’ve noticed any of the changes above or have other concerns about your tongue or oral health, just give us a call. We’ll book you an appointment and develop a personalized care plan to address the situation. Okanagan Smiles is here to take the worry out of dental care and get you on the path to oral health!