Stick Out Your Tongue for Good Health

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We all know that regularly-scheduled check-ups are great for our dental health but did you know that your dentist checks for your overall oral health at your appointment? In addition to your teeth and mouth, your tongue is also monitored for any changes or areas of concern.

Curious about how your tongue shapes up and want to see for yourself? Here is what we look for when looking at your tongue.

Geographic Tongue

Has your dentist ever told you that you have a geographic tongue? Noted to affect between 1 and 14 percent of the US population, a geographic tongue is a common and harmless condition represented by a bumpy texture to the surface of the tongue – think the hills and valleys of a topographic map. It generally is attributed to the possible shrinkage of taste buds and can occasionally become painful. If so, an anti-inflammaroty paste or rinse can be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms.


Yes, it’s true… even our tongues can get wrinkles as we age. Small cracks in the tongue usually are harmless but if coupled with poor hygiene those little cracks can become infected. Signs include an unpleasant odor and sometimes a burning or painful sensation. It is generally easily treated with a topical anti-fungal medication.

White Patches & Cottage Cheese

If you notice white patches on your tongue, a visit to your dentist is in order. It can be a sign of a yeast infection or of painless white patches called leukoplakia, which are caused by excess growth of cells and often associated with smokers. Although leukoplakia can sometimes reverse itself once you stop smoking, it is important to have them checked out as there is a 5 to 17 percent they can develop into cancer.

If the white on your tongue has more of a lumpy, cottage cheese-like formation, this could be an indication of a yeast infection or thrush. This is mostly seen in young children but also adults with diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. Often also linked to antibiotic use, thrush can appear when the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast in your mouth become out of balance.

Red lesions

Another potentially concerning sign are persistent red lesions. Unlike canker sores which appear on the tongue or cheek and can go away within two weeks, red lesions that stick around could be a sign of skin cancer and worth an office visit.

Burning sensation

If you’ve experienced a burning or stinging sensation on your tongue, it could be the result of hormonal changes or an allergy to a certain toothpaste. Women are seven times more likely than men to experience this sensation and it is sometimes linked to postmenopausal hormone shifts. It’s uncertain why this occurs and it can sometimes go away on its own. If toothpaste is the culprit, it can be an allergic reaction to an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). It can occur suddenly and switching toothpaste sometimes helps as can an antibiotic rinse or pills to lessen the pain.

Black, Hairy Tongue

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Although unpleasant to see or smell, a black and hairy tongue isn’t a major concern. It’s associated with poor oral hygiene, smoking and very often a high intake of a lot of coffee. This one is easy to solve by quitting tobacco and using a tongue srcaper and brushing regularly. What you are seeing when this condition is present is an overgrowth of the papillae, the small bumps on the surface of the tongue. Papillae grow throughout a lifetime and normally get worn down by chewing and drinking. When they do not, they can be a breeding ground for bacteria and become discolored with food or tobacco.

Strawberry Red

Remember those papillae that can become overgrown and lead to a black and hairy tongue? Well, the opposite happens when the body lacks Vitamin B12 and iron – papillae can not mature, leaving the tongue to appear very smooth and red in color. This can be corrected with diet modifications or vitamin supplements.

Monitoring the health of your tongue is just one part of a six-month check-up. If it’s been awhile, schedule your next appointment to stay on track with your oral health.

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