Your tongue is a small muscular organ, and a healthy tongue can range in color. It is not uncommon for a tongue to turn red, yellow, purple, or another hue due to certain underlying health conditions. While it is not unusual for your tongue to vary in color, any significant changes can signify that something may be wrong.
Read on to learn about the different colors your tongue can appear and what a healthy tongue should look like.
What Your Tongue Says About Your Overall Health
A healthy tongue should be pink in color with small nodules called papillae over the surface. Certain medical disorders may cause your tongue to change in appearance, and a color-changing tongue could be your first indication of a severe underlying issue. If your tongue ever changes significantly in appearance, develops patches or lesions that don't go away, or swells and becomes painful, it is recommended to visit your dentist or doctor right away to determine the cause.
Colors of an Unhealthy Tongue
Here is a quick guide to knowing what the color of your tongue is saying about your overall health:
- Red - A red tongue can be caused by many things, such as inflammation, infection, a blood disease, an underlying heart condition, or vitamin B12 deficiency. Scarlet fever, eczema, and Kawasaki disease may also cause your tongue to turn red.
- Purple - Heart problems and poor overall blood circulation may lead to your tongue turning purple. A purple tongue is also commonly seen in Kawasaki disease.
- Blue - A blue tongue can indicate a lack of oxygen caused by respiratory issues, kidney disease, or a blood disorder.
- Yellow - The tongue may have a yellow appearance, or a yellow coating can develop due to a buildup of bacteria from poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, alcohol use, heavy consumption of coffee or black tea, dry mouth, inflammation of the stomach lining, or weakened immune system.
- Gray - Digestive issues may cause your tongue to turn gray. Peptic ulcers or eczema may also be to blame.
- White - A tongue with a thick and lumpy white coating could mean you have oral thrush, a fungal infection of your mouth's mucous membranes. A tongue that looks only slightly white can be a clear indication of dehydration.
- Brown - Certain foods or activities, such as drinking a lot of coffee or smoking, can cause your tongue to turn brown.
- Black - A tongue that appears black and hairy with swollen bumps can be due to certain antibiotics, poor oral hygiene, and smoking. Additionally, Pepto-Bismol can temporarily darken the appearance of your tongue.
Checking Your Tongue For Other Abnormalities
Other abnormalities in your tongue's appearance should warrant a call to your dentist or physician. When checking the appearance of your tongue, be sure to also look for the following:
Leukoplakia can occur if the tongue has been irritated, and is commonly seen in those who smoke or use tobacco. If you do not consume tobacco products and are experiencing white spots on the tongue, contact your dentist immediately to rule out oral cancer.
An overly red tongue can be a symptom of a vitamin deficiency, including a lack of folic acid or B12. A simple solution for an excessively red tongue could be adding a vitamin supplement to your morning routine.
Suffering from a high fever can leave your tongue with irregular red and bumpy patches on the surface. After your fever has subsided, your tongue should return to a healthy shade of pink.
Sore and Tender
From food allergies to developing a canker sore, a tender tongue is typically nothing to worry over. However, if your tongue has been painful and causing you discomfort for an extended period, speak with your dentist.
A protein buildup can cause small bumps to become elongated on your tongue, resulting in what appears as strands of hair on the tongue. If you notice your tongue appearing hairy, investing in a tongue brush or a tongue scraper will help to restore your tongue to a healthy state.
Maintaining a Healthy Tongue (and a Healthy Smile!)
Like your teeth, the tongue is a visible part of your smile, so if it doesn't look healthy, it may make you feel self-conscious. You can improve the appearance of your tongue by gently brushing twice a day while cleaning your teeth and gums. Sticking out your tongue to check its color after brushing your teeth daily can be a reassuring habit. That way, if the color of your tongue changes, you will notice it right away.
A healthy tongue color does not guarantee your dental health is in excellent condition, so don't forget to schedule regular dental exams and cleanings with Tompkins Dental!