Beyond Taste Buds: Your Tongue as a Health Window

Beyond Taste Buds: Your Tongue as a Health Window

0 July 3, 2024

Tongue as an indicator of overall health

     Tongue is an organ which can be related to not only our nutrition but to the emotional experience of food. We as humans, have evolved to not only consume food but enjoy it too with all our senses but the sensation of taste dominates it, making us capable of tasting all the different flavours the world has to offer. However, the tongue not only contributes to taste but speech as well. We are able to form proper speech due to our tongue but do you know there is much more to the tongue than this? Let us find out but first let’s understand what tongue is as a physical attribute.

The tongue is a purely muscular organ that lies in the oral cavity. It is considered to be one of the strongest muscles in the body. It has a rough dorsal surface with tiny papillary projections that contain taste buds which enable us to identify different tastes. The tongue has specific areas on it for assessing specific tastes. Being made of a complex arrangement of muscles and attachment only at the posterior end allows the tongue to be a free moving muscle in comparison to other muscles in the body and allows speech. All these peculiar features of the tongue also open a root for a variety of variations in physical appearance that can be normal or pathologic. The appearance of the tongue can indicate a lot more about the overall health of a person.

So let us find out how your tongue can tell you about what is going on in your body. 

Red sore patches : Sometimes accidentally biting the tongue while consuming something is something we all have experienced.  Even though it can be painful it is quite normal and might leave a red sore spot on the tongue. However, certain foods like sour foods or abrasive foods, when consumed for a long time can cause irritation and leave red spots. Another reason could be consumption of high temperature food, most commonly a hot beverage that can cause the papilla to get injured, thus, leading to red patches. Such trauma however, is mild and heals after a few days on their own and doesn’t indicate a major issue. Smoking can also lead to such red sore patches on the tongue. 

Redness of tongue: A very common indicator of anaemia (B12 deficiency) is specific beefy, red appearances of tongue that is strikingly different from the normal pinkish colour of tongue. Anaemia is a serious systemic condition which would be elimination of the deficiency for the tongue to go back to its normal appearance.

White patches : Deposition of a thin layer of white plaque-like substance on the tongue is quite common that we can easily scrape off while brushing but under certain conditions, the white patches might be thicker than normal.  It might appear like cottage cheese. This can be an indicator of yeast infections like Candidiasis caused by Candida albicans and may need medical intervention.  It can also be an indicator of systemic conditions like diabetes or oral cancer. It is also called “Oral thrush”.

Other white patches which are not scrapable with web-like striations are indicators of an autoimmune condition called oral lichen planus. 

Other white non-scrapable patches on the tongue might also indicate presence of leukoplakia,  a precancerous condition of the oral cavity.

White patches are more common than red patches and shouldn’t be ignored at all.

Mixed Red & White appearance : Leukoplakia also manifests itself as mostly white but sometimes even in red or mixed appearance. 

Black or hairy tongue: This kind of appearance is not normal in any way and needs to be checked upon. Most commonly it occurs due to bacterial growth over the tongue. Such conditions will need medical intervention. Certain medications also cause the tongue to have a black appearance.

Glossy tongue : It is an appearance in which the  papilla of the tongue is missing and makes the tongue look shiny. Absence of papilla can be due to trauma, inflammation etc. The papilla can regenerate after elimination of the cause. This can be localised and appear as a bald spot on the tongue too. 

Yellow or green tongue : This can be a sign of poor oral hygiene causing bacterial deposition which might lead to such abnormal discoloration of the tongue. 

Interesting right? How can a simple, small organ in the mouth tell so much about your health? This sole indicator, which we mostly assume to only function for indicating delicious food is actually a huge indicator of not only systemic diseases but even cancerous conditions. So keep your tongue clean and healthy. While you brush your teeth, make sure your tongue isn’t left unattended. Keep a check on whether your tongue is doing well or is indicating some serious problem. Watch out for this little pink muscle.

-Nehal T.

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