What does your tongue say about your health?
Our oral health is an early and important indicator for many serious conditions that may develop throughout the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, oral health might contribute to conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Pregnancy and Birth Complications
Many of these conditions are thought to be caused by bacteria from your mouth traveling around the body to places it should not be, and causing infections. One of the most important things we can do to mitigate our risks of suffering from these illnesses is to practice good oral hygiene (aka brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings). But did you know there is more that you can do to enhance your oral health?
Your tongue’s health is essential to the overall health of your mouth.
Infections, stress, medications, and even aging can affect your tongue. It is important to know how to take care of your tongue, and how to recognize unhealthy changes.
Signs of a Healthy Tongue:
A healthy tongue should be pale pink in color, with no pronounced spots, bumps, or blemishes. There are small nodules called papillae on the top and bottom of the tongue, and these are your taste buds, and nothing to worry about.
Signs of an Unhealthy Tongue:
(For more information and photos, see this WebMD article)
- White Patches: Small white spots on your tongue are probably nothing to be concerned about, but thick patches of white that look like lichen growing on a rock could be an indication of oral thrush (candidiasis), similar to a yeast infection. If you see hard, flat white spots on your tongue that can not be scraped off, it could be leukoplakia, which most likely is not, but could be cancer. The safest thing to do is to get it checked out.
- “Hairy Tongue”: If your tongue looks like it is covered in a dark, almost hairy covering, that is likely caused by a protein buildup that traps bacteria. This is an indication that you need to do a better job cleaning your tongue and should be able to be scraped away. If it is not able to be scraped away it could also be oral hairy leukoplakia, which has a greater tendency to affect those with Epstein-Barr or HIV.
- Bright Red Tongue: If you have a painful red tongue, it might be due to a Vitamin B3 deficiency. If your tongue is bright red with no pain, it could be a sign of Scarlet Fever (or Kawasaki Disease, a very rare disease that affects children).
- Smooth or Glossy Tongue: This could be an indication of vitamin deficiencies of iron, folic acid, or B vitamins. It could also be caused by celiac disease, an infection, or a side effect of medication.
- Issues lasting longer than 2 weeks: If you have a sore, bump, pain, or trouble chewing or swallowing, that could be an indication of oral cancer. At BOCO Dental & Prosthodontics, we screen for oral cancer at each cleaning, but if these issues arise in between cleanings, contact your doctor immediately.
How to take care of your tongue:
Now that we know all of the things to look out for, we will share the best ways to manage your regular tongue care. If you incorporate these things into your oral health routine, you will have a healthier, happier mouth (and better breath!) and you will recognize signs of issues sooner!
1. Brush your tongue
When you brush your teeth, be sure to include your tongue! This should be a gentle brushing, moving from the back of the mouth to the front. This will help move bacteria out of your mouth and is one of the best things you can do for better-smelling breath.
2. Use a tongue scraper
If brushing alone is not helping, you may want to start using a tongue scraper. We prefer tongue scrapers made of stainless steel or copper. Gently scrape your tongue (if you scrape too hard, your tongue might get sore) from back to front with a clean scraper, then rinse the bacteria off of the scraper with water. It’s really that simple!
3. Rinse your mouth after brushing
After your oral health routine of brushing (teeth and tongue), flossing, and scraping, rinse out your mouth! All that hard work has dislodged bacteria and buildup, and rinsing is the best way to ensure that it is flushed from your mouth.
4. Stay Hydrated
As we’ve mentioned, drinking water is one of the best things you can do for your oral health. Not only does hydration help your overall health, it also flushes your mouth, reducing build up of bacteria and sugars.
Stay on top of your oral health and call BOCO Dental to schedule a check-up today!