Your tongue does a lot of things – it helps you chew, swallow, taste, and speak about whatever it is you just tasted.
But it does more than that, including providing you with a glimpse of your overall health.
Symptoms of chronic and acute illnesses can actually be seen on your tongue – in fact, it’s usually the first thing that goes amiss. So what is normal for a tongue?
“Pinkish-red–not bright red–with bumps and waves,” says Sally Cram, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association and a periodontist in Washington, DC.
Besides that, it could be an indicator of a particular health condition.
Celiac disease is characterized by gluten triggering the immune system to attack the small intestine. Common symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, and bloating, but it can also lead to losing the little hairs that cover the surface of the tongue.
This is known as atrophic glossitis, or “bald tongue” or “smooth tongue”, which causes changes in taste, as well as pain.
“When you lose [those] hairs it can be very, very sore. Anything acidic or spicy or containing alcohol can really burn,” explains Cram.
The disease can also make the tongue burn or feel dry when vitamins aren’t properly absorbed through the small intestine.
While a healthy tongue is pinkish-red, a bright red one could be a sign of a lack of folic acid, vitamin B12, or iron. These deficiencies can be remedied with supplements or changes in diet, however.
A bright red tongue is also an indicator of strep throat or Kawasaki disease, a rare but treatable disease that causes blood vessel inflammation.
If you see a bright red tongue, don’t freak out right away. It could easily be from that strawberry smoothie you had at lunch!
When you’re stressed, canker sores can pop up on your tongue and other parts of your mouth.
If you have these small, shallow sores, you can gargle warm salt water and avoid greasy foods to manage the condition.
Some sores and bumps on your tongue can come from grinding your teeth or biting your tongue, too. “We see lots of benign masses and ulcerations on the tongue … just from bite trauma,” says Dr. Kauffman.
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