Mouth Health: What is Your Tongue Trying To Tell You

Your mouth is important. We use our mouths to do the talking (a lot of talking) and often than not, a smile is what makes us appear approachable.

However, it can also tell us more about our health than we think. While one’s teeth may appear perfect and white, there are other known symptoms that could signal potential health problems.

Bright red tongue

Unless you just enjoyed a delicious red lollipop, a bright red tongue could signal a vitamin deficiency- particularly vitamin B12 and iron.

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Both Vitamin B12 and iron are used to help the formation of the tongues’ papillae – small bumps on the surface of the tongue that hold our tastebuds. This deficiency is often common in vegetarians, vegans and other individuals that don’t eat red meat.  Aside from supplements, other ways to get your iron intake is by consuming dark, leafy greens and legumes.

Black fuzz

The papilla on the surface of our tongues continues to grow throughout our lifetime. Unfortunately, despite how much chewing one does,  the papilla can overgrow.

As a result of the excessive growth, individuals can develop a somewhat black, hairy tongue. This tongue can then affect dental health by harboring bacteria. The overgrowth of papilla is often caused by smoking, excessive coffee drinking or poor dental hygiene.

By quitting smoking, regulating your coffee intake and practicing proper dental hygiene, all that hair on your tongue is sure to clear up.

Burning sensation

Fortunately, there are no serious health issues associated with a burning sensation on your tongue. The burning sensation could be a hormonal one as postmenopausal women often experience it.

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However, if this is not the case then the stinging sensation could be caused by your toothpaste of choice. Toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can cause allergic reactions and irritation.

Bleeding gums

While some attribute bleeding gums to overzealous flossing, bleeding gums are actually the first sign of gum disease.

Gingivitis is caused by inflammation of the gum tissue which results from plaque buildup along the gums. Unfortunately, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis – where the gums actually recede from the teeth and create infected holes.

It’s vital to make an appointment with your dentist if you suspect that you might have gingivitis. However, if you truly are flossing too hard, the American Dental Association recommends that you lightly “guide” the floss between your teeth instead of sawing it back and forth.

Cottage cheese white

While cottage cheese is a great addition to Greek salads, you never want it to be used an adjective to describe a health symptom.

A tongue white-coated and lumpy could be a sign of oral thrush, which is an oral yeast infection. A yeast infection is caused by the overgrowth of yeast. For both vaginal yeast infections and oral yeast infections, the root of the problem is often antibiotics.


Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria and if they create an imbalance, yeast can take over. Other risk factors for oral thrush include a weak immune system, diabetes, smoking and those with conditions that cause dry mouth.

Practicing good dental hygiene and consuming probiotic-rich foods can help to protect against oral thrush.

Pale gums

Healthy gums vary in color from light pink, to purple and brown. However, if your gums are pale, then there may be cause for concern.

Pale gums have been linked to anemia- a blood disorder that results from low levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin. If your pale gums are accompanied by other anemic symptoms like fatigue, then it’s important to immediately consult your doctor.

Painful sores

There are two types of sores that appear on the mouth: canker sores and cold sores.

Canker sores are non-contagious mouth ulcers that occur as a result of stress, allergies, vitamin deficiencies or hormones. They often disappear after a week or two.

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Cold sores, on the other hand, are contagious, painful, unsightly mouth sores caused by the herpes virus. They can take four weeks to heal and it’s important to visit your doctor.

Red lesions

Red lesions that refuse to fade are often a symptom of tongue cancer.

Aside from excessive tobacco use (cigarettes, pipes, snuff), other risk factors for tongue cancer include the HPV virus, poor dental hygiene, and alcohol. Thus it is important to get the red lesions checked immediately.

Small white patches

Small, white, painless patches on the tongue are known as leukoplakia and they are often associated with smokers.

Caused by excessive growth of cells, leukoplakia can develop into cancer so it is important to; 1. Stop smoking and 2. Consult your doctor.

Aside from smoking, leukoplakia can also be caused by your toothbrush constantly irritating your tongue. If the patches still don’t fade after a week then it is advisable to consult your dentist.

Stained teeth

Often than not, your stained teeth are a direct effect of your diet choices.

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Soda, coffee, and wine can cause brownish stains on your teeth. Luckily this can be fixed by using whitening toothpaste. However, if your teeth stains are darker and have yet to fade, then you may have a cavity or a more serious injury.

Weak teeth

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is an exacerbated form of heartburn that occurs when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus and comes up into the mouth.

Once this acid reaches the mouth, it slowly begins to erode at the enamel on your teeth, leaving them weaker.

In order to counter GERD, one would have to stay clear of certain foods and take the medication that has been prescribed.

Bottom line

Our oral hygiene is a direct reflection of our body’s health thus it is important to pay close attention to our mouths. Whether it’s checking your toothbrush for any interesting residue or regularly visiting your dentist, the healthier you keep your smile could be the better you protect your health.