The fact that it’s the responsibility of dentists to oversee the health of our teeth is something we already know. However, the reality is that our dentists at Sacramento River Dental Group dental office are responsible for a lot more than just your teeth.
Our dental team is committed to protecting your overall health, and your tongue is one area that’s of particular interest to our dentists. You might be surprised to learn that your tongue can say a lot about your overall health and can show early warning signs of certain serious conditions affecting health.
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What Do We Look For?
Our dentists and dental hygienists will take a closer look at your tongue when you come in for your bi-annual dental checkups. You are likely wondering exactly what it is that we are looking for.
The first thing our dental team will look for is any changes in the texture of your tongue since your last appointment, paying special attention to any lumps or bumps. Next, we will look for any discoloration of the tongue.
A healthy tongue is pink and ideally covered in tiny bumps that are referred to as papillae. If the tongue is unhealthy or may be showing signs of a bigger problem, it may have one or more of the following:
1. Black and Hairy
If you look into the mirror and see a black, hairy tongue, you will most likely panic. But, no matter how gross and scary this may seem, odds are that a black, hairy tongue is not something you should fear and is usually temporary.
It may also be helpful to know that the hairy appearance is not actually hair. It is usually an accumulation of dead skin cells on your papillae that causes the usually tiny bumps to take on a long, stringy appearance.
Causes: Excessive use of alcohol, changes in the number of bacteria or yeast in the mouth, dry mouth, tobacco use, or poor oral hygiene.
Symptoms: Furry or hairy appearance, metallic taste or change in taste, bad breath, green, brown, yellow, or black coloration.
2. A Sore, Bumpy Tongue
All tongues naturally have a bumpy texture, and not all bumps are worrisome. However, if a new bump appears and lasts longer than 2 weeks, or is accompanied by soreness or pain, it may be time to visit our Sacramento River Dental Group dental office.
A bump or lump that does not go away may be an early warning sign of oral cancer and should be checked out before it’s too late.
Causes: While just about anybody can develop oral cancer, there are certain things that increase the risk, which include HPV, too much sun on the lips without protection, alcohol, and tobacco use.
Symptoms: Bumps, lumps, or painful sores that don’t go away, changes in voice, numbness of the tongue, difficulty swallowing or chewing, chronic bad breath.
Changes in the texture of your tongue may be concerning initially, but a scalloped appearance or ridges on the tongue’s edges are typically harmless.
Causes: Smoking, sleep apnea, pushing the tongue against the teeth either during periods of stress or even while sleeping, teeth grinding, nutritional deficiencies such as iron, vitamin B-12, niacin, or riboflavin.
Symptoms: Indents, ripples, ridges, or scalloped edges on the sides of the tongue.
4. White Spots
If your tongue appears to be coated in white spots, you are likely experiencing leukoplakia or oral thrush. Leukoplakia is a result of alcohol use or tobacco use while oral thrush is an infection that’s caused by Candida yeast. Leukoplakia can sometimes develop into oral cancer.
Causes: Alcohol use, tobacco use, poor oral hygiene, mouth breathing, dry mouth, dehydration.
Symptoms: White spots or patches or a white coating on the tongue. The white coating or spots can appear either on the whole tongue or just in select patches.
We always recommend keeping a close eye on the health of your tongue in between visits. If you notice any changes in color or texture or develop sores, contact our Sacramento River Dental Group dental office as soon as you can.