The appearance of your tongue can be very informative. White markings or patches, tongue discoloration, a swollen tongue, growths, sores … many problems associated with your tongue can be harmless. But some may be indicative of a more serious problem. If you notice changes in the appearance of your tongue, it is always best to err on the side of caution and see your dentist for an examination.
The tongue is an important muscle; it is used for tasting, chewing, and swallowing food. And the tongue is needed and used constantly to speak.
Two of the more common conditions that can alter the appearance of your tongue include oral thrush and leukoplakia. They are both recognized by white patches on the surface of the tongue.
Thrush is often caused by an overgrowth of yeast fungus in the mouth caused when the natural balance of bacteria is impacted. This can occur due to illness, medicines, antibiotics, and even stress.
Leukoplakia can resemble thrush, but unlike thrush the white patches cannot be scraped away. Tobacco use is a common cause of leukoplakia; and is often considered a precursor to oral cancer.
A hairy black tongue sounds serious, but it is probably more of a nuisance than a medical concern. The bumps you see on the surface of the tongue grow larger. The rough texture of the tongue appears “furry” and can be discolored from tobacco use, food, and beverages like coffee. Good oral hygiene (and perhaps a tongue scraper) are tools to treat a hairy tongue.
Canker sores can be very painful, and often form on the tongue. Although there are products that will bring relief, there is no cure. They usually run their course in ten days to two weeks.
Causes of Tongue Problems
Some things are beyond your control such as a viral infection or a weak immune system. But there are lifestyle habits that can contribute to problems such as smoking (or any tobacco use); excessive alcohol consumption; a poor diet; unchecked stress; and negligent or poor oral hygiene habits.
If you should note changes in the appearance of your tongue, have it checked. In many cases, what you see may be harmless. But it could also be something serious like oral cancer; seeing your dentist could actually save your life.