Aside from just tasting the food we put in our mouth, our tongues can be an important gauge of overall health. From vitamin deficiencies to more serious health threats, your tongue is an easy route to figuring out what’s going on underneath.
Chinese and Western medicine have long been diagnosing illnesses and conditions based on the texture and colour of the tongue (so this isn’t “new” information, to say the least).
There are many warning signs your tongue may be sending you about your health, so grab a mirror, open wide and discover what your tongue is trying to tell you. If you recognize any of these symptoms, check with your doctor or dentist to get a proper diagnosis.
1. Bald Tongue
If your tongue is smooth and pale, you may have what is called atrophic glossitis, an inflammatory condition that causes that tongue’s papillae to die and shed, leaving behind a smooth, shiny tongue. This is usually caused by a B12 or iron deficiency.
2. White Coated Tongue
Otherwise known as oral thrush – caused by the yeast Candida albicans. This looks like white patches on the tongue, and lesions can develop and bleed slightly when scraped. Get rid of Candida in your body by consuming a low-fat plant-based diet high in fruit and vegetables and limited (or no) fat intake for a week or two. Also take grapefruit seed extract daily.
3. Black Hairy Tongue
This is an odd one, but it does happen, and it isn’t as bad as you may think. It is the result of bacterial overgrowth and signals that you need to up your oral hygiene game. It could also be the result of recent antibiotic use or a fungal infection. Bad breath or metallic taste in the mouth is often the symptom of this type of tongue. Brush the tongue with a tongue scraper 2-3 times a day to help resolve the issue.
4. Geographic Tongue
This tongue type causes a map-like pattern of red spots to develop on the tongues surface. They will sometimes have a white border around them. There is no symptom of geographic tongue, other than the fact that your tongue will look like a 3D map of mountains and hills. Some people do experience sensitivity when eating hot, spicy, salty or acidic foods. Switching to a plant-based diet and clearing out the diet of junk food and drinking plenty of water should resolve this issue.
5. Too-Big Tongue
Sometimes the tongue may look inflamed or too large for the mouth it’s in. This could indicate that you have hypothyroidism, which means you aren’t producing enough thyroid hormone. Healing the thyroid naturally is a thing – check out the article I wrote here.
6. Canker Sores
If your immune system is working hard at fighting off a cold or flu, or you’re stressed out, you might be the victim of tongue canker sores. They can also pop up after consuming spicy food. They usually take awhile to heal (1 week or more), so be patient and swish your mouth with salt water twice a day to speed healing time.
7. Oral Fibroma
If you have a small, raised bump on the side of your tongue you probably have what is called an oral fibroma. This isn’t anything to be alarmed of – oral fibroma’s are simply a build-up of soft tissue, and are caused by repeated trauma to the lips, inside of the cheeks or tongue. If you have an odd bump in your mouth, I suggest getting it looked at to make sure it isn’t something more serious.
8. Wrinkly Tongue
If your tongue has deep fissures and cracks on the surface or sides, you might just be getting old, but you also might have an autoimmune disorder. Fissures and cracks are normally harmless, but if you have poor dental hygiene, then an infection can develop in the crevices, which will lead to pain, foul smells and burning. Make sure you always brush your tongue well, and keep a clean mouth! If you’re below the age of 60 and cracks make up the majority of your tongue, seeing a doctor would be wise to factor out any autoimmune conditions.
9. Burning and Tingling Sensations
If your tongue tingles or burns a lot, it could be that you are using the wrong toothpaste, or that you are post-menopausal. Women are more likely to experience these sensations, but it could also be that you are having an allergy to certain toothpaste ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Always opt for a fluorde-free, natural toothpaste. I love the brand Earthpaste, but if you are looking for something that foams up a bit more, dessert essence makes a toothpaste that is relatively chemical-free and tastes wonderful.
10. Small Patches of White
Painless white patches are called leukoplakia and are usually found in those who smoke. These lesions have a 5-17% chance of developing into cancer, so if you do smoke, stopping immediately can completely reverse the condition. If you don’t smoke, the patches could simply be a result of abrasion from a tooth constantly rubbing against the tongue. If it doesn’t go away in a few weeks, go see a doctor.
Here’s a chart that is more based on the Chinese medical system from AcuMedic: