The human body is a pretty cool piece of machinery. With multiple systems performing at the same time, it's really a wonder bodies don't break down more often than they do. One amazing thing about the body is that sometimes people experience symptoms of potential problems in odd places, such as their teeth, feet or even tongue.
Want to stay on top of your health? Stick out your tongue and say ahh! If you spot one of these symptoms, you may have some work to do.
Warning: Some of the images below may appear graphic.
1. A black, hairy tongue
If you open your mouth and discover black fuzz, you might feel alarmed. However, this condition isn't serious. The tiny hairs (papillae) on your tongue grow during your whole life, and sometimes they become long and more likely to attract bacteria. A black tongue is common in people taking antibiotics (or receiving chemotherapy), in diabetics and in those who neglect oral health.
2. A lump that's been there for a while
There are a few benign reasons you could have a lump on your tongue. Common causes are irritation from smoking, canker sores (usually stress related) or damage from clenching your teeth.
In some cases, the presence of a lump or bump on your tongue could be an indicator of oral cancer. If you notice a lump or sore on your tongue that persists for more than two weeks, you should contact a doctor or dentist for a quick examination. Oral cancer is most common in people who smoke or drink heavily.
3. White coating
White coating on your tongue, also known as thrush, likely indicates the presence of too much yeast. This is a common side effect for people taking antibiotics, as well as for denture wearers and children.
4. White patches
Patches of white on the tongue indicate a condition called leukoplakia. The condition may be a precursor to cancer but is not dangerous on its own. Smokers are more likely to see these white patches. Talk to your dentist if you notice white patches that aren't going away and can't be removed with a toothbrush.
5. Red tongue
A healthy tongue is usually light pink. If your tongue looks bright red when you open your mouth and has a smooth surface, you could be suffering from a vitamin deficiency, specifically folic acid deficiency and/or vitamin B12 deficiency.
If your red tongue is accompanied by bumps and a high fever, contact a doctor as soon as possible as this could indicate scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease. This is most likely to occur in children.
6. Red spots and white borders
If your tongue looks a bit like a topographic map, you could have what's called a geographic tongue. This is usually a harmless condition. The spots and ridges on the tongue usually move and change over time.
7. Thick white coating
If you discover a thick, white, painful coating on your tongue, it could be lichen planus. There's no known cause of this condition, and unless it becomes troublesome, it should clear up on its own. Lichen planus may, however, cause ulcers in the mouth. You may want to contact a doctor for oral or topical medication.