The tongue is considered as perhaps one of the more benign organs in our bodies that seldom need medical attention. For centuries the tongue has played more of a role in physical intimacy than the actual health of the body.
But looks can be deceiving – you’d think the tongue is only meant for show but it’s actually one of the strongest muscles we have. And while diseases of the tongue can be uncommon, when they exist they do require medical attention.
In fact, the tongue can be a good insight or a window to the overall health status of your body. There are certain conditions that will show their signs on the base or the underside of your tongue; signs that a doctor will observe and pick up during a physical examination.
Because of this insightful ability, a complete general physical examination is incomplete without observing the colour, texture, shape and position of the tongue regardless of the kind of doctor you go to.
Conditions That Can Affect the Tongue
Tongue conditions can be pretty distressing. That’s because not only do they usually always require treatment of some sort but they are also cosmetically disfiguring.
Most conditions of the tongue affect it secondarily with an underlying disease that needs to be corrected. Exclusive, tongue diseases are rare and good oral health care including using the best mouthwash can play a role in prevention
#1: Signs of Jaundice on the Tongue
There can be multiple causes of jaundice, from a liver infection to gall bladder inflammation. Moderate to severe jaundice can discolour not only the skin and whites of your eye,but it can also make your tongue appear yellow.
Treatment is directed towards the underlying cause of jaundice. Once the level of bilirubin (a substance that causes jaundice) decreases to normal levels, the yellow tinge on the tongue also goes away
#2: White patches on the Tongue
Whitish streaks or patches on the tongue can be attributed to several causes. Mostly this is because of poor oral hygiene and the whitish streaks or coats will go away when you brush the tongue or rinse your mouth with a dental mouthwash
Other times the white streaks or patches can have more serious implications. Oral candidiasis or thrush is a yeast/fungal infection of the mouth that can cause white patches to form in the oral cavity including the tongue. Leukoplakia is another condition that causes white streaks to form on the side of the tongue. This is a more dangerous sign as it can progress to cancer.
#3: Strawberry-colored Tongue
Strawberry tongue is a hallmark sign of a childhood blood vessel disease called Kawasaki disease. This is a potentially lethal condition in children and good medical care needs to be provided.
In an adult, the excessively red tongue could mean other things. Sometimes it might just be a tinge from a bright-coloured fruit or food dyes you consumed; other times it could be because of a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin b-12 or folic acid deficiency typically cause glossitis (or inflammation of the tongue). This causes the tongue to appear redder than usual.
Taking the recommended daily dose of vitamin B-12 and folic acid will help the tongue to return to its normal colour in a few weeks.
#4: Geographical Tongue
Yes, there is such a thing as a geographical tongue!
In this condition, the tongue appears bumpy with irregular edges, shaped like a map. There are also areas of redness scattered across the surface and the shape of the bumps keep changing with time. Sometimes this condition is associated with an infection and high fever.
Once again, treating the underlying cause will cure it.
#5: Hairy Tongue
Another hard-to-believe condition of the tongue is one which appears hairy. This happens when there is excessive protein (specifically of a protein called keratin) growth on the surface of the tongue. It’s not actual hair, mind you. It just appears like so because of its dark colour.
A hairy tongue is closely associated with cigarette smoking so quitting smoking might help you prevent it. Nutritional deficiencies also play a role in a hairy tongue.
This condition usually requires treatment which includes manually scraping off the lesions using a tongue cleaning device.
#6: Signs of Low Oxygen
Cyanosis is the medical term used when the body suffers from a lack of oxygen. This causes your extremities to appear blue including the tip of the tongue. If the tongue appears blue then an underlying heart or lung disease needs to be investigated.
#7: Tongue Tie
Tongue ties are fairly common in people who were preterm babies. The frenulum is a thin membrane that attaches the base of your tongue to the floor of the mouth. A frenulum that is long and attaches to the tip of the tongue instead of the base causes a tongue tie where the tongue literally gets tied to the floor.
In mild conditions, this is rarely a problem but sometimes the tongue-tie can become infected or come in the way of feeding. In those conditions, surgery is usually done to shorten the frenulum and restore the mobility of the tongue.
#8: Deviated Tongue
The tongue can be pushed to one side of the mouth rather than its normal midline position when there has been a nerve injury. The hypoglossal nerve supplies the muscles of the tongue so any insult to it will cause abnormal positioning of the tongue.
#9: Cancer of the Tongue
Cancer of the tongue is rare but it can be as deadly as any cancer. The tongue looks disfigured, painful and might involve adjacent areas of the mouth. If caught early, remission is possible.
How Can You Improve the Health of Your Tongue?
Optimal oral hygiene is the key to maintaining the health of your tongue. Along with rinsing your mouth with a powerful best mouthwash in the market, it’s also important to brush the tongue especially the back of it. This will reduce bacteria and give you not only fresh breath but protection from some deadly conditions of the tongue.
It’s also important to visit your dentist frequently to stay in the know of your oral health!