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Five things your tongue can reveal about your health

Health By Rachel Murugi
Your tongue is prone to infection if left uncared for (Photo: Shutterstock)

A healthy tongue is pink in color and is covered with papillae, small nodules on the surface of the tongue that increase its surface area and provide a rough surface that makes handling food easier. Some nodules contain taste buds.

The appearance and feel of your tongue can indicate certain health conditions. We look at some of these changes and their meaning.

1. If your tongue is brown, dark or hairy it could be a sign of:

Poor dental hygiene

The papillae on your tongue may grow and in some people it may grow excessively long making your tongue more prone to harbouring bacteria. Although the condition is not serious it can be an indicator of poor dental hygiene. In most cases, a black hairy tongue may be as a result of poor dental hygiene. Other reasons include drinking coffee, dark teas and smoking. People with diabetes, receiving chemotherapy and taking antibiotics may develop this kind of tongue.

Don't forget to brush your tongue daily to limit the chances of getting a black hairy tongue that can cause bad breath and change how food tastes.

2. If your tongue is sore or bumpy, it could be a sign of:


Stress can lead to canker sores in the tongue that usually heal within a week or two without treatment.

Oral cancer

This normally starts as a painless lump or sore that doesn't disappear after two weeks.

Tongue trauma

If you occasionally bite your tongue it can result in a sore tongue making it very painful.

3. If your tongue is (unusually) red, it could be a sign of:

Scarlet fever

This infection also makes the tongue bumpy. One needs to see a doctor if the strawberry-like tongue is accompanied with high fever.

Vitamin deficiency

Low levels of vitamins like B-12 and minerals like iron may cause your tongue to look unusually red. Regular checkups can help monitor the levels of these nutrients. Your doctor may advise you to take supplements if their levels are below normal.

Brush your tongue everyday to reduces chances of infection (Photo: Shutterstock)

Kawasaki disease

This condition is characterized by the abnormal enlargement of the lymph nodes. It is often accompanied by a very high fever. Kawasaki disease mostly affects kids under the age of five. This condition needs medical treatment.

Geographic tongue

This is characterised by red patches that appear on the surface of the tongue. These patches can move around and change their shape and size. This condition should not be a cause of alarm since it heals on it's own. If it gets painful your doctor can prescribe an anti-inflammatory paste and pain relievers to ease the pain.

4. A tongue that is white in color could be a sign of:


This condition is as a result of the cells in the mouth growing excessively causing white spots on the tongue and inside the mouth. These white patches are painless and are mostly found on people that smoke or use tobacco products. Leukoplakia, although not intrinsically dangerous, can be a predictor of cancer. Check with your dentist to confirm its effects on your health.

Oral thrush

This is a mouth infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans. It manifests as white patches have the consistency of cottage cheese which appear on your tongue and inner cheeks. It mostly affects individuals with weak immune systems, those on oral steroids, antibiotics or suffering from diabetes. It is also common in babies.

5. If your tongue has wrinkles, it could be a sign of:

Old age

These cracks are usually harmless may just be a sign of aging. Maintain proper dental hygiene to avoid any infection caused by bacteria accumulating in the fissures. If a fungal infection should develop inside the folds, antifungal medication can be used to treat it.

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