During an exam, your doctor may ask you to stick out your tongue. Do you know why the doctor does that? Checking the tongue is a valid way to get a rough idea of our general health. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioners also use the appearance of the tongue to measure the physical health status of a person. They believe that certain areas of the tongue correlate to specific organs of the body. The front section of the tongue represents the chest, the mid-section represents the abdomen and solar plexus (part of the nervous system, behind the stomach), and the back section represents the lower abdomen/lumbar region. The tongue’s color, texture, moisture, and the location of abnormalities provide signs of what’s going on (harmony or disharmony) inside your body.
- White coating. A thin coating on the tongue is healthy and normal. A heavy white plaque may indicate candidiasis or oral thrush — a fungus infection of warm, moist areas of the body. Taking too many antibiotics or an over-use of chemical mouthwash can contribute to this condition.
- Dry tongue. The dryness is often caused by swelling of the salivary glands. Stressful lifestyle may trigger this condition. Relaxation routines, like breathing or yoga, can help regulate the stress. To stimulate the flow of saliva and flush out the salivary ducts, you can drink cider vinegar and lemon diluted in a glass of water. If your tongue is persistently dry, you should seek medical advice. A persistent dryness may indicate Sjorgren’s syndrome (an immunological disorder).
- A purple tongue may indicate serious health problems like high cholesterol which could result in heart problems, and chronic bronchitis which cuts down the efficiency of the airwaves in bringing oxygen to the bloodstream.
- Getting hairy. The upper surface of the tongue is covered with small projections called filiform papillae, which give it a rough texture. The filiform papillae can elongate due to certain conditions, giving the tongue a “hairy” appearance. The possible causes are: bacterial infection, taking antibiotics, or having a very dry mouth.
- Red and painful. When the tongue turns into bright or dark red, it may indicate lack of certain nutrients, especially iron and B vitamins. A temporary redness and pain in the tongue can be caused by something you ate or drank, and sensitivity to certain flavors of toothpaste, mouthwash or gum (like cinnamon) and acidic foods (like pineapple).
- Too dark. When your tongue looks dark brown or black, the problems could be in your diet, lifestyle, or medicine cabinet. Drinking a lot of coffee, smoking or chewing tobacco can stain the tongue a brownish shade. Taking bismuth medications (like Pepto Bismol) can make your tongue turns temporarily black. Fortunately, in both cases, you just need to brush your tongue a few times to bring back its normal shade. Although the staining may not be permanent, using any kind of tobacco can increase your risk of oral cancer.
- Turning yellow. A yellow tongue may indicate fungal or bacterial infection in the mouth. Gastric reflux can also cause tongue yellowing.
- Sore spots. Canker sores or mouth ulcers can be extremely painful. A normal canker will heal up and vanish in a week to 10 days. But if it last longer and doesn’t seem to be going away, you need to see your doctor immediately since it could be a sign of oral cancer.
- This could mean that your blood is lacking in hemoglobin – the iron-containing protein found in red blood cells. Your blood doesn’t have the necessary oxygen-carrying capacity to keep the tissues red. The lack of oxygen in the blood can make all of the tissues, including the tongue, look pale and anemic. It can also result in tiredness and lethargy. A well-balanced diet containing plenty of iron found in lean meat may help.