Sticking out your tongue may be just what the doctor ordered! Your tongue tells an important story about your emotional and physical health. A healthy tongue should be pink and covered with tiny, raised nodules. If it instead looks red or is covered in white spots or a thin white coating, you may have a medical condition, including a vitamin deficiency or oral thrush.
Anatomy of the Tongue
Your tongue is an organ covered by a pink and soft tissue called the mucosa and small bumps known as the papillae, which is home to thousands of taste buds that allow us to detect sweet, salty, bitter and sour tastes; as well as a fifth, lesser known taste called umami that detects a savory glutamate-like taste.
Your tongue includes three embryonic layers: endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm. It contains the same tissues found in many other parts of your body, making it connected with your organs in the head, neck and upper torso region. So, what is happening in your body can often be first seen in your tongue.
White Tongue: Common Causes
When your tongue is covered in white spots or a white coating, it may be time to call your doctor. Here are some conditions that can cause a white tongue.
Oral thrush, also known as candidiasis, is a condition in which the fungus Candida albicans grows in abundance on the lining of your mouth. Although Candida is an organism that typically lives in our mouths in small amounts without causing any problems, it can overgrow and cause symptoms including white lesions and thick white areas on the tongue.
Oral thrush usually occurs in infants and the elderly, in those with immune weakness and those on certain medications such as steroids or antibiotics. It’s not a life-threatening or serious condition, but doctors may recommend probiotics, Candi-Calm, or prescription medication for this condition.
This condition is usually diagnosed as a white or gray patch on the tongue or on the inside of your cheek. It’s caused by chronic irritation of the mucous membranes from ill-fitting crowns or dentures, for example; or from smoking or sun exposure to the lips. While it’s a harmless condition, your doctor may do a biopsy to rule out oral cancer and remove the source of the irritation such as repairing dental work. Leukoplakia is most common in the elderly although it can happen at any time in a person’s life.
This disease can occur in any area of the body that has a mucous lining, and often it is found in the mouth. Lichen Planus can sometimes result in abrasions or ulcers in the mouth or around the tongue. This is a chronic condition with little treatment available, although dentists may recommend patients use mild toothpaste and avoid spicy foods or alcohol.
Red Tongue: Common Causes
Having too red of a tongue can be another sign of a certain ailment in your body. Keep an eye on that tongue of yours to avoid the following:
This condition is commonly seen as finger-like lines and flat areas on the tongue. Although the exact cause of geographic tongue is not known, it is linked to irritation from spicy, hot foods or from drinking alcohol. It can also be associated with a lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid.
The appearance of the tongue may change very quickly and the flat-looking areas may remain for more than a month. In fact, patches can move every day. Sores and burning pain can also occur.
This treatable infection is caused by the group A Streptococcus or “group A strep.” Scarlet fever can cause the tongue to appear very red and even swollen. The good news is that scarlet fever is treatable with antibiotics, and while it is usually not a serious illness, antibiotics are needed to ensure it does not cause complications. It is also quite contagious.
Kawasaki Disease (KD)
If your child has a suspiciously red tongue, you should to take them to see the doctor. Kawasaki syndrome, a serious illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels in the body, primarily affects infants and young children. In fact, 80 percent of KD patients are under five years old, although children of any age – even teenagers – can get it. According to the Kawasaki Foundation, KD is more common in boys than girls, and the majority of cases are diagnosed in the winter and early spring.
Vitamin B Deficiency
As mentioned earlier in the post, a red tongue could indicate that you’re not getting enough Vitamin B12. Without enough of this vitamin, your metabolism could be compromised. In addition, B12 is essential for healthy brain function and immune system.
A burning sensation of the tongue is often caused by a deficiency of folic acid, another B vitamin. Diamond Nutritionals’ Foundation Vitamins Formula is contains all the necessary B vitamins in therapeutic amounts. Taking three tablets daily will provide you with a full spectrum of B vitamins, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. All Diamond Nutritional products are made in America to the highest standards.
This condition is characterized by an inflamed tongue which has become “slick” and shiny looking due flattening of papillae. There are several causes, including several autoimmune conditions. The most common cause is iron deficient anemia. For my patients with iron deficient anemia, I recommend Diamond Nutritionals’ Foundation Vitamins Formula with Iron.
There are many types of iron supplements, most of which are not well tolerated by the GI tract or well absorbed. Foundation Vitamins Formula with Iron contains ferrous bisglycinate chelate, which is known for better absorption and GI tolerance. It also contains the full complement of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C. Taking therapeutic doses of vitamin C along with iron enhances the absorption of iron.
Always remember, it is important to brush your tongue daily, along with flossing and brushing your teeth.