• Saturday, September 23, 2023


What does your tongue reveal about your health?

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

A GP has revealed that any changes inside your mouth can be indicative of some deadly diseases. From mouth ulcers to a geographic tongue, NHS GP, Dr Rachel Ward of Woodlands Medical Centre in Didcot explains what the inside of your mouth really means for your health.

Also, be aware of any deviation in your tongue’s normal appearance or if you experience any pain – this may be a cause for concern and warrant a checkup by your GP.

Most bacteria that live in your mouth reside on your tongue and though some bacteria promote health, some others can be detrimental to your health, the Mirror explains.

Your tongue also has around 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds, which allows you to experience the different textures and flavours of foods.

Cleveland Clinic informs, for you to spot any problems in your mouth, stick your tongue out and look in a mirror to examine it. If your tongue is healthy, it will be pink and covered with small nodules called papillae.

Let’s take a look at some problems you may experience inside your mouth:

Mouth ulcers or canker sores

These are small, painful patches or lumps inside your mouth which generally heal by themselves within a week or two and do not need any treatment.

However, an ulcer could be serious if it does not heal soon. Dr Rachel is reported to have told The Sun, “If you have a non-healing ulcer or a new lump on the tongue, it could be a sign of oral cancer and you should arrange to see your doctor or dentist straight away.”

Additionally, in an earlier report featured in Cleveland Clinic, family physician Daniel Allan, MD states, “Keep in mind that many oral cancers don’t hurt in the early stages, so don’t assume a lack of pain means nothing is wrong.”

White patches that don’t rub off

These patches inside your mouth and on your tongue that will not rub off are known as leukoplakia. The patches are supposedly caused by the excessive growth of cells in your mouth.

“They are mostly benign but can be pre-cancerous and needs to be seen by your dentist or doctor,” Dr Rachel said.

Dr Allan adds, “Leukoplakia can develop when the tongue has been irritated.”

White spots that can be brushed off

Dr Rachel explains that white spots that can be scraped off with a toothbrush, could be a sign of oral thrush. This is a yeast infection and the patches often have the texture of cottage cheese.

The doctor also said, “It is often associated with soreness, an unpleasant taste, and difficulty eating and drinking.

“Though oral thrush is common and normally easily treated if it becomes a recurrent issue, it may indicate another underlying health issue such as a problem with your immune system or a deficiency.”

Dr Allan notes, “Oral thrush is most commonly seen in infants and the elderly, especially denture wearers, or in people with weakened immune systems.

“People with diabetes and those who are taking inhaled steroids for asthma or lung disease can also get it. And oral steroids can trigger thrush too. Oral thrush is also more likely to occur after you’ve taken antibiotics.”

Hairy and black tongue

This is an abnormal coating on the surface of the tongue. According to the GP Dr Rachel, a ‘hairy tongue’ occurs due to decreased stimulation on the top of the tongue – this causes bacteria or yeast to grow.

The bacteria usually build up on the papillae which lie all along the tongue and instead of shedding, the papillae begin to get elongated. In fact, in severe cases it can even grow up to 15 times its normal length, thus creating a ‘hairy’ appearance.

“When these bacteria grow, they may look dark or black, and the overgrown papillae can appear hair-like,” Dr Allan states.

He further adds, “Fortunately, this condition is not common and is typically not serious. It’s most likely to occur in people who don’t practice good dental hygiene.”

Dr Rachel too said, “It is most commonly caused by poor oral hygiene or smoking.”

Geographic tongue

You may have a geographic tongue if you have a map-like pattern on it with reddish spots.

According to Dr Rachel, “It is a common condition and not serious but can cause soreness if you eat certain food like citrus fruits or spicy foods.

“The best way of managing it is avoiding the irritating foods.”

For Dr Allan, “These patches can have a white border around them, and their location on your tongue may shift over time.

“Geographic tongue is usually harmless,” he affirms.

Another problem to watch out for inside your mouth includes a strawberry-like appearance which also looks red and bumpy. This is an infection called scarlet fever.

“If you have a high fever and a red tongue, you need to see your family doctor,” informs Dr Allan.

He also adds that “antibiotics are necessary to treat scarlet fever.”

The experts advise that it is important to check your tongue daily while brushing and to watch out for any lumps, sores, discoloration, or pain, and seek medical help if they do not go away within two weeks.

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