Maintaining a healthy tongue is just as important as maintaining strong teeth and gums. The build-up on the tongue is an indication of bacteria that causes bad breath, tooth decay and gum diseases. A healthy tongue is free of any discomfort such as pain, stinging, burning, swelling or numbness. It is moist, with a rough surface and has an evenly coloured pink surface overlaying pale red. A careful observation of the tongue, it’s colour and shape often gives an insight into the health conditions of the individual explains Dr Prathyusha M, consultant dental and cosmetic surgeon.
Q Often when a patient visits a doctor, they are asked to show their tongue? What is the indication that a doctor gets of diseases by seeing the tongue?
Inspection of a patient’s tongue is an important starting point in the clinical examination to understand the health and state of underlying diseases. The different colours of the tongue give an insight into what the patient is suffering from and also helps to evaluate their condition properly.
Q What do the various colours of the tongue depict?
A healthy tongue should be pink and covered with small nodules (papillae). Any deviation from your tongue’s normal appearance, or any pain is a cause of concern. The different colours are:
- A white tongue, or white spots on your tongue indicates oral thrush — a yeast infection that develops inside the mouth. It appears as white patches that are often the consistency of cottage cheese. It is seen in infants, elderly and also people with diabetes and lung diseases. Oral thrush occurs after taking antibiotics.
- A red tongue is a sign of vitamin deficiency like folic acid and vitamin B-12 deficiencies. When a patient suffers from scarlet fever, the tongue has strawberry like red and bumpy appearance.
- A black tongue is usually harmless and is caused due to medication, smoking, poor oral hygiene, soft diet or dry mouth.
Q Why must tongue care be an important part of oral hygiene?
Tongue care is an important part of oral hygiene as mouth is the gateway to the body and bacteria from the teeth and gums can affect overall health in more ways than one. Bacteria that originate in the tongue can travel throughout the body and cause a host of health problems.
Heart Disease/Stroke Risk
Bacteria and plague enter the bloodstream through the gums. The bacteria contains clot-promoting protein that clog arteries leading to an increased risk of heart attack.
Those who have diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease and it becomes a two-way street for contracting infections as the blood sugar levels are also difficult to control and excess sugars attack the tooth and lead to its loss too.
Bacteria from the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs where it can aggravate respiratory systems, especially in patients who already have respiratory problems or chronic lung disorders.
Q How must tongue care be taken?
For a thorough cleaning, use a tongue scraper. This tool is usually made of soft, flexible plastic and gently peels the thin mucus-based layer of debris from the tongue. Rinse the scraper under warm water after each swipe of the tongue. If your tongue feels sore or begins to bleed, you are using the tongue scraper with too much force. Work slowly and with light pressure. Concentrate on the center of the tongue where the bulk of odor-causing bacteria lies.
Q How often must the tongue be cleaned?
Each time you brush and floss your teeth, finish your dental care routine with a tongue cleaning. At a minimum, clean your tongue once in the morning and once in the evening before bedtime.
Risking it off
- Many people develop cancer sores on the tongue which normally heal within a week or two of treatments.
- A lump or sore on thetongue that does not goaway in two weeks is anindication of oral cancer.
- Infections of the mouth pose serious risks to other major organs of the body.
- People with poor oral hygiene show an increased risk of developing heart disease.
- Women with gum disease show a greater incidence of pre-term, low-birth-weight babies.
- Problems in chewing can lead to intestinal failure, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.