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Tongue Troubles

The tongue is an amazing body part. Did you know?

- The tongue does not house all of the taste buds. Approximately 10% of them are found on the palette and cheek. - Skeletal muscle comprises the majority of the tongue. - The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body (technically, it’s the strongest GROUP of muscles in the body). - Every tongue has its own tongue print. - The world’s longest tongue has measured in at 9.3 centimeters. - Bad breath quite frequently comes from your tongue — almost half of all of the bacteria in the mouth live on the surface of the tongue, so you should brush your tongue to keep it healthy, and your breath fresh. - The same word is used for tongue in Russian, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Armenian, Polish, Finnish, Irish, and Latin Turkic.

While there are plenty of fun facts about the tongue, it’s also an excellent harbinger of disease and other problems within the body. What do these different tongue colors mean?

A White Tongue

It could be a condition called leukoplakia, wherein the cells on the surface of the tongue grow excessively, and lead to white patches. It’s generally not dangerous, but at times it can be a precursor to oral cancer. If you have this condition and it doesn’t clear up in a reasonable amount of time, contact your dental health care provider so they can perform an oral cancer screening.

A white tongue can also mean oral thrush — an oral yeast infection. This condition is most common in infants and the elderly, and can often be treated without medication, using home remedies such as plain yogurt with active, live cultures.

A Red Tongue

Most tongues are pink — not red. If your tongue is bright red it could mean:

A vitamin deficiency. Folic acid and vitamin B-12 deficiencies in particular can cause a red tongue.

Geographic tongue. Generally harmless, it appears as a map-like pattern of reddish spots. If it lasts more than two weeks, see your dental health provider to confirm that the condition is what it seems.

Scarlet fever. Though a rare disease now, it does still occur. If you notice a “strawberry” tongue and have a very high fever, see your doctor immediately as scarlet fever requires antibiotic treatment.

Kawaski Syndrome. Usually seen in children under the age of 5, it affects the blood vessels in the tongue causing the bright red coloring, along with a high fever and often swelling of the hands and feet. This requires immediate medical attention.

A Black, Hairy Tongue

Generally harmless, but definitely shocking to see, a hairy, black tongue is usually the result of the small bumps on the tongue’s surface growing excessively long, and becoming a hiding place for bacteria. When this happens, the bumps (called papillae) will often appear to be dark or black, and even hair-like. It’s uncommon to see this condition in anyone with good dental hygiene and in good general health.

If you have any questions or concerns about changes that you’ve noticed to your tongue or any other part of your mouth, contact our Ann Arbor dental practice at 734-677-2156 to schedule an appointment for a dental health consultation.


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