How your tongue can reveal a lot about overall health


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Your eyes may be the window to your soul, but your mouth is the gateway to your health. After all, there’s a reason why one of the first things doctors do on an exam is make you open up and “say ahh”.

Clues of a number of conditions can show up on the tongue, lips, teeth, and gums. Here are a few to watch out for:

Bumps or lesions on the tongue

It is completely normal to have a canker sore on the tongue or along the gums from time to time. But if you notice a lesion that doesn’t go away after a week or two, make an appointment with your health care provider. The concern: cancer.

Some cancers are prominent – you can see them when you stick your tongue out. But they can also hide under the tongue or at the base, says Nadeem Karimbux, periodontist and dean of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. “So to do a good cancer screening you really want to stick your tongue out and look each way,” he says.

Smoking and drinking alcohol increase the risk of developing cancer of the tongue and other parts of the mouth. Age is another risk factor for oral cancer, including cancer of the tongue, just like human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Look for an ulcer-like sore that ranges from grayish pink to red; it can also bleed easily, say experts at Cedars-Sinai. Another possible symptom is numbness of the tongue. And don’t forget to check the rest of your mouth: Oral cancer can also appear on the tissues that line your mouth and gums, and where the back of your mouth and throat meet.

Although rare, psoriasis, a skin disorder, could be another cause of redness and bleeding in the mouth and on the tongue, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Talk to your dentist or dermatologist if you experience these symptoms.

A white layer on the tongue

If your pink tongue has taken on a new shade, be careful. A thin white coating that looks like cottage cheese could indicate thrush, which is a fungal infection on the tongue, says Elena Zamora, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Oral thrush is more common in people who are immunocompromised, including those with HIV / AIDS and untreated diabetes. Taking medicines that suppress the immune system can also make it more likely that thrush will develop, as can using an inhaler for a condition like asthma.

Zamora explains that when people who regularly use inhalers don’t wash their mouths after each use, “then the fungus can actually grow because you create a more immunocompromised state in it. [being exposed] to things like steroids just through an inhaler.

Wearing dentures and a dry mouth can also increase the risk of oral thrush. Contact your health care provider if you think you have it; antifungal medication may be needed.

A condition known as leukoplakia could also be the cause of white spots on the tongue. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the cause is unknown, but irritation from tobacco or alcohol may be an explanation. A weakened immune system could also be to blame, and age is another risk factor. Leukoplakia usually does not cause permanent damage to the mouth, but it can increase the risk of oral cancer. It is therefore best to see a health care provider if you recognize its symptoms.

A dry or swollen tongue

Your doctor may be able to tell if you are dehydrated just by looking in your mouth. When you stick your tongue out, “there should be some kind of glare,” Zamora says. “Sometimes the light bounces off the tongue, but if it’s very dry, you might just see a buildup of saliva,” or a cracked tongue.

A dry mouth, which can also be a side effect of medications, can have implications for oral health, including tooth decay, says Karimbux. “Because the saliva kind of bathes the teeth, and when you lose that… you may be more prone to cavities,” he says.

If you notice that your tongue looks more swollen than usual, especially after a meal, “you may develop an allergy,” says Zamora, who adds that a tingling sensation in the back of your throat may also signal a tingling sensation in the back of your throat. allergic reaction. It’s also possible to be allergic to toothpastes and mouthwashes, so start cataloging everything you put in your mouth.


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