Stick out your tongue and take a good look in the mirror. A healthy tongue should be pink and covered in small nodules, also known as papillae. If you notice any discoloration that doesn't go away within a week or two, there may be cause for concern. Even though there's a variety of common tongue symptoms and conditions, many of these problems are not serious and can be resolved quickly with good oral care habits.
White tongue: This can be caused by a fungal infection, also known as 'thrush,' that occurs in the mouth or throat due to an overgrowth of yeast. Symptoms include white spots inside the mouth or on the tongue, sore throat and difficulty swallowing. Dehydration, poor dental hygiene or Leukoplakia, an excessive growth of cells in your mouth and tongue, might also be the reason.
Red (or strawberry) tongue: When your tongue turns bright red it may signify a deficiency in folic acid and vitamin B-12, a bacterial infection (often paired with a high fever) or Kawasaki disease. This is more common in children and causes a victim's blood vessels to become inflamed, which explains the redness of the tongue.
Black tongue: A tongue with black patches, mainly along the center could indicate trapped bacteria and yeast. Diet and smoking habits can blacken the surface area, as well as certain medications, dehydration and bad oral hygiene. Often times the bacteria build up inhibits the natural shedding process of the papillae and they start to grow, creating a hair-like appearance.
Yellow tongue: This usually occurs as a result of harmless buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of your tongue. It's often associated with acid reflux or mouth breathing and can be an early sign of black tongue. If your skin or the whites of your eyes are also yellow this may suggest jaundice and you should seek medical care.
How to Take Care of Your Tongue
Every time you brush and floss your teeth, finish your oral care routine with a proper tongue cleaning.
- Clean your tongue on a regular basis to prevent the growth of bacteria. Using your toothbrush works fine but you can also try a tongue scrapper.
- While scraping, don’t apply too much pressure or you may end up hurting your tongue. Scrape it in a downward motion at least two or three times to remove excess plaque.
- You can also coat your tongue with a toothpaste with natural ingredients before scraping. The toothpaste works to neutralize the bacteria.
- Rinse your mouth with water or a gentle, alcohol-free mouthwash thoroughly after scraping to help get rid of bad odor and moisturize the mouth.
You should visit your dentist for diagnosis and treatment if your tongue problem is severe, unexplained, or persists for several weeks with no signs of improvement.