Your tongue is a powerful and important muscle – essential for taste, chewing and processing food and speech. The oral part of the tongue, containing the front two-thirds, lies mainly in the mouth, while the pharyngeal part of the tongue consists of the back third.
The oral part is covered in bumpy papillae, which come in four types. Three of these four types have taste buds on their surfaces. The average human tongue has 2,000 to 8,000 taste buds.
There are five taste sensations – sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami (often known as meaty or savoury)
Your tongue should be pink and relatively smooth.
A white coating on your tongue can sometimes indicate an infection, while an overly dark tongue is often the result of diet, lifestyle, or medications, such as antibiotics or bismuth medications (such as Pepto Bismal). This dark staining – whether from coffee, cigarettes, or medication, should fade with brushing and time.
A bright or dark red tongue can be the result of nutritional deficiencies, though a red and painful tongue can also be a short-term reaction to something consumed, such as mouthwash, toothpaste, or acidic foods.
A yellow coated tongue can result the result of a bacterial or fungal infection, though could also be attributed to gastric reflux.
An abnormally pale and smooth tongue can be a symptom of anemia, or iron deficiency.
If you tongue begins to appear “hairy”, this is likely because the filiform papillae on your tongue have become elongated. This can be the result of infection, antibiotics, or a very dry mouth.
Mouth ulcers, which can appear anywhere in the mouth including on the tongue, can appear as a result of having a cold or fever, stress, or simply as a result of biting your tongue. Ulcers should disappear within about 10 days. If an ulcer persists longer than this, you should come and see us.
Small bumps on the tongue – from inflamed papillae, are also normal, as long as they disappear within a few days. Any prolonged inflammation, ulceration, or lumps may signify mouth cancer, so it’s essential you let us check this if you have any concerns.
An inflamed tongue can signify an allergic reaction, so it is worth of trip to the doctor if this symptom persists.
Finally, burning mouth syndrome describes a painful, burning sensation that can affect just the tongue or the entire mouth. This condition, which is not particularly well understood, often affects post-menopausal women, though both the causes and solutions are unknown. Drinking water, chewing gum, and taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs are current treatments that seem to help manage the syndrome.
In order to clean your tongue, you should invest in a tongue brush or scraper, or simply use your toothbrush to brush your tongue. If all else fails, an inverted spoon can also be used. You should clean your tongue before, not after eating, so the number of bacteria on your tongue and generally inside your mouth are reduced.
Tongue cleaning is important for fresh breath, oral hygiene, and your general health.