Your dentist in Madison knows that your oral health can say a lot about your overall health. But the connection doesn’t just involve your teeth and gums. In fact, at every one of your dental appointments, your dental team takes a good, hard look at your tongue, as well as your teeth and gums, and for a good reason. The color and even the texture of your tongue can give your dentist some helpful clues into your overall wellbeing.
What We’re Looking For
The tongue is a marvelous part of our anatomy and is actually quite interesting and helpful. Our tongues are made up of eight strong muscles that work tirelessly day in and day out to help us break down food as we chew, help us speak, swallow, and even filter out germs. But its usefulness goes beyond that. The tongue’s color and texture can help your dentist in Madison identify and catch potential problems before they have a chance to become serious.
Let’s Take a Look
When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your tongue in the mirror? While this sounds odd, it’s beneficial to keep a close eye on the health of your tongue. In fact, we recommend that you examine your tongue often in between your bi-annual dental appointments. But what exactly should you be looking for? Well, we’re mostly concerned with changes in color or texture, but not every change is cause for concern. Your dentist in Madison can help you differentiate between what’s worrisome and what’s no big deal.
- White Patches – Small white spots all over the tongue or even a white film are usually no cause for concern, but you should still seek treatment. Typically, white spots on the tongue is a sign of too much candida yeast, known as oral thrush. However, white patches may also be a sign of leukoplakia, but this is most common in tobacco users or those who drink alcohol excessively. Sometimes, leukoplakia can develop into oral cancer, so it’s important to keep an eye on it.
- Black, Hairy Appearance – We know this sounds really gross and scary, but the truth is, a black, hairy tongue isn’t normally a sign of any illness or disease and typically goes away on its own. A black, hairy tongue is usually a result of tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, diabetes, a yeast infection, poor oral hygiene, or cancer therapies. Also, the hairy appearance isn’t actual hair (thank goodness!) but rather a buildup of dead cells that essentially flatten out the tiny bumps (papillae) that cover our tongue (not that this sounds any better than actual hair!).
- Redness – All tongues are naturally some shade of red, but it’s usually a light red or pinkish color. When a tongue appears bright red, it can be called strawberry tongue thanks to the bold, bright color. Strawberry tongue may be caused by strep throat or deficiencies in B-12, folic acid, or iron. A red tongue may also indicate erythroplakia which can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer. Because of this, it’s important to let your dentist in Madison know if your tongue starts to appear bright red and doesn’t go away.
- Lumps & Bumps – Every tongue is naturally bumpy thanks to the tiny papillae that cover the surface. However, if a new bump or lump appears and doesn’t go away within two weeks or is painful, you should contact your dentist. New, long-lasting bumps can be an early sign of oral cancer. While oral cancer can be treated successfully, success is achieved more often when the disease is found early. If you notice a bump that doesn’t go away, see your dentist as soon as you can.
If you don’t already spend some time looking at your tongue in the mirror, we encourage you to do so. Being aware of the changes happening in your mouth can go a long way in getting early treatment if necessary and avoiding bigger problems from occurring.