Ever wonder why your doctor asks you to stick out your tongue even when you’re not complaining about it?
That’s because your tongue can say something about your health. In fact, in Chinese medicine they believe that the tongue actually reflects all the diseases of the body. Visual tongue inspection and diagnosis is actually a very old practice that dates back to the Shang Dynasty, which began around 1600 B.C. Ayurveda (traditional medicine native to India) practitioners also check the tongue to tell if a person is healthy or not.
How to tell if your tongue is healthy:
A healthy tongue should be vibrant : pale-red or pretty pink color is considered healthy but it shouldn’t be too pale or too dark. This shows a healthy flow of blood reaching the tongue. The veins underneath the tongue should not distended, they are either barely visible or not at all. The tongue’s color should light and not dark-blue or purple. The tongue should be supple, neither too flabby or too stiff. It should move with ease. It should have no cracks, does not tremble and is neither swollen nor thin. The tongue is slightly moist, neither too dry nor too wet.
According to Ayurveda, a person whose tongue has cracks may have imbalances related to the nerves in the large intestines; either the nerves are too sensitive or the person may have indigestion. Midline cracks are signs related to emotional disturbances and spinal column problems. A person whose tongue has tremors may have issues relating to fears, insecurities and anxieties. Teeth marks on the tongue means poor absorption of nutrients. White coating at the back of the tongue indicates toxins in the colon. A white or off-white discoloration of the tongue is an indicator of kidney problems or congestion. If the tongue has a layers of fuzz and has bumps (other than your taste buds), it may mean clogged organs in the body. A reddish spot in the tongue may indicate a sensitive and delicate heart.
What could changes in color of the tongue mean?
You’ve probably noticed how your tongue can change color depending on what you eat (remember those Yackie candies you tend to eat just to have a blue or green tongue and lips?) If you’re past that stage but you still have changing tongue colors, aside from the usual healthy pink, that may be a sign that you’re overdoing certain habits – or it could signal an underlying condition.
- Black – From time to time, a person’s tongue may take on a black, hairy appearance. Black hairy tongue may be unsightly, most of the time, it is harmless and temporary. It just means an overgrowth of tongue nodules (papillae) that traps bacteria and other mouth debris. Poor oral hygiene could be the problem, or vices such as excessive use of tobacco and intake of coffee, or habits such mouth-breathing or excessive use of mouthwashes or medications such as antibiotics and stomach medications. Aside from the color change, you might also experience a metallic taste in your mouth or bad breath. Brush, floss, and try using a tongue scraper to remove the bacteria. Black hairy tongue resolves on its own, but consult your doctor if symptoms last beyond 10 days or so.
- Yellow – Like with the case of the black tongue where the tongue’s papillae can trap bacteria, the tongue may also appear yellowish. Improve your oral hygiene, and the yellow hue should subside. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a yellowish hue or yellow-greenish appearance of the tongue that doesn’t go away even after improving your oral hygiene may indicate liver or gallbladder imbalances, and possibly stomach, liver and spleen imbalances due to poor digestive function.
- White – The whitish color means there are bacteria, dead cells, and debris wedged in the papillae. Pay special attention to your brushing and flossing habits, and add a tongue scraper to your oral hygiene routine. If you have improved your oral hygiene and your tongue still has a pale, whitish appearance, see your doctor. A pale but smooth tongue indicates anemia. The lack of color may also be due to a low or weak blood supply or poor blood circulation. A constant white film on the tongue could also be a sign of oral thrush, a type of yeast infection. The Chinese believed that the whitish color may be caused by parasites, anemia, and malnourishment. It could also be an indication of kidney imbalances, unbalanced hormones, or low adrenal function.
- Brown – A spot on the tongue that has turned brown or dark discoloration could possibly be a form of skin cancer called melanoma. Gray or brownish-gray spots may stomach or intestinal imbalances. According to Chinese traditional medicine, people with this tongue color usually have longerlasting colds and/or liver or spleen imbalances.
- Red – A red tongue more often signals underlying problems. A strawberry or raspberry-coloured tongue are usually the initial symptoms of scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease. If your mouth hurts and your tongue looks smooth and red, your diet may be deficient in niacin, an important B vitamin.
A healthy tongue normally has a consistent, bumpy surface and this is because of the tiny nodules. Sudden changes in texture could be due to irritation to alcohol or certain foods, but if such changes are not due to the food you eat, then the changes may be an indicator of other health issues. We’ve all accidentally bitten our tongue at one point or another, perhaps hard enough to leave a sore spot. Be watchful , though, as in some instances, a spot on the tongue may be a result of something more than surface trauma, like:
- A bump on top of the tongue could be a warning of bacterial or viral infection.
- A white or gray lesion with a hard surface that feels thick and protruding from the tongue could be leukoplakia, a disorder of the mucous membranes caused by irritation from dentals accessories such as dentures, crowns or fillings. A hairy leukoplakia can also occur to people with weakened immune systems due to illnesses like HIV or the Epstein-Barr virus, appears as a fuzzy, white lesion that usually crops up on the side of the tongue.
- A sore or lump on the side of the tongue may be a sign of cancer and should be looked at by a doctor. Syphilis, when left untreated, can develop to cancer on the top of the tongue.
One thing is for sure, though – any time that you notice pain, swelling, changes in your ability to taste, abnormal movements or difficulty in moving the tongue, do not hesitate to see a doctor.