Australian dentists have revealed the common changes in your tongue that could be telling you something more sinister about your health – including white patches, sore lumps and swelling.
Experts from the Emergency Dentist Sydney explained how the tongue can provide clues about your overall health and when a seemingly innocent change could warrant a trip to the doctor.
These include a sudden white patch on the tongue, a ‘strawberry’ like appearance and unusual or painful lumps.
Australian dentists have revealed the common signs your tongue may be trying to warn you about your health – including white patches, sore lumps or swelling (stock image)
White patches on the tongue usually develop from poor oral hygiene, smoking or chronic alcohol use
White patches on the tongue usually develop from poor oral hygiene, smoking or chronic alcohol use.
Tweak your daily oral hygiene routine by ensuring you clean your tongue with the bumpy backside of your toothbrush when you brush your teeth.
But if there’s no difference after a week or two of cleaning your tongue, it’s recommended you visit a doctor for a check up.
‘White patches and bumps on the tongue can also often be caused by a yeast infection, or can be a sign of a condition called leukoplakia, which is often caused by tobacco or chronic alcohol use,’ the experts said.
Both conditions are easily treated by a doctor.
According to experts from Medibank, the white coating occurs when an overgrowth and swelling of papillae on the surface of the tongue causes bacteria, food, and dead cells to get trapped.
How to look after your tongue
Brush your teeth twice a day: It’s important to brush thoroughly with a soft-bristled brush to remove any build up of bacteria in the mouth. Make sure to give your gums some attention, brushing the tooth where it meets the gum, as well as flossing.
Avoid sugar: Bad bacteria in the mouth like to feed on sugary foods which can in turn damage your tooth enamel. Reduce your sugar intake to mitigate this nasty bacteria and promote better overall oral health!
Quit smoking: Smoking can lead to tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and in more severe cases mouth cancer. If you’re a smoker, think twice about having that next cigarette.
Drink plenty of water: Dry mouth, or a lack of saliva, can lead to oral disease. Drinking enough water can help to keep the mouth moist. The fluoride in tap water also helps prevent decay.
A rosy tongue can indicate your taste buds are reacting badly to a certain food, stress, or even a deficiency in a vitamin such as folic acid or B12.
One of the most common causes is a dry mouth so it’s best to stay hydrated.
A bright, strawberry tongue accompanied by a sore throat is often a sign of an infection like strep throat or even scarlet fever.
The conditions can be treated easily with antibiotics so it’s recommended you see a doctor immediately for a check up.
A rosy tongue (left) can indicate a deficiency in a vitamin such as folic acid or B12, while those with ridges or indentations (right) in their tongue stems from genetics
What is a healthy tongue?
A healthy tongue is typically a pinkish colour with small bumps coating its surface. Clinically speaking, these bumps are known as papillae.
On an average adult tongue, these papillae contain around 9,000 taste buds enabling us to distinguish between different flavours, be it sweet, sour, salty or bitter.
The bumps on the tongue are often caused by a food you have recently consumed – especially if it is spicy or hot.
They normally disappear by themselves rather quickly but if you experience a discomfort in the mouth, it could be canker sores or herpes (cold sores).
The conditions will eventually go away on their own but can be treated to speed up healing and ease discomfort.
RIDGES OR INDENTATIONS
Those with ridges or indentations in their tongue may find they stem from genetics.
‘They may also be a sign that you have a fissured tongue, a long crack down the middle of the tongue that again, most people are just born with,’ the experts said.
‘It is something you should be aware of though, as it’s easy for food to get stuck in that crack and cause bad breath and help the growth of potentially damaging to your teeth bacteria.’
Brushing your tongue regularly will help with this.
For serious swelling (left), it can be a sign that you’re allergic to something you consumed, while a persistent sore or lump on the side of the tongue is a sign of oral mouth cancer (right)
The tongue can develop a mild swelling after reacting to a very hot cup of coffee or accidentally biting your tongue instead of your food.
The swelling goes away on its own but experts suggest sucking on an ice cube can help speed things up.
For serious swelling, it can be a sign that you’re allergic to something you consumed.
‘This can impair your breathing, something that is obviously dangerous, so medical attention should be sought right away,’ the dentists said.
ORAL (MOUTH) CANCER
There are different cancers that can form on the tongue lips or gums.
People aged over 40, particularly those who smoke, are at increased risk of mouth cancer with most first noticing a persistent sore or lump on the side of the tongue.
Other symptoms include red or white patches and unusual bleeding or numbness.
If you experience any symptoms, it’s important to visit your doctor immediately.
The doctor will look at your medical history, symptoms, and carry out an examination of the tongue and throat. Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor will decide on what treatment is required.
If treated early, the prognosis for mouth cancer is generally good.