How Do I Know If I Have a Healthy Tongue?

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Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

February 25, 2022

We’ve all been there: looking at your tongue in the mirror over and over trying to
determine when you’ve brushed enough, or wondering “is that normal?” about
something you see. Your tongue is more reactive and can tell you more about your
health than you might realize. We’re going to jump in to some key indicators for
conditions or abnormalities so you have the tools to know if your tongue is healthy.

#1: Color

The first indicator you can use to tell whether a tongue is healthy is the color. A healthy
tongue will be pink in color with many small bumps on the surface called papillae. The
most common discoloration you might see is white on the surface of the tongue. This is
referred to as “White Tongue” and is extremely common to see. This white coloration is
the result of the papillae on your tongue becoming swollen and enlarged. Bacteria, food,
and other particles get stuck between the papillae and cause the surface of the tongue
to look white. You can avoid white tongue by brushing twice a day with fluoride
toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush as well as flossing and using a fluoride mouthwash
at least once daily.

Some things that can contribute to a white tongue are:

  • Not brushing or flossing well
  • Eating soft foods
  • Smoking
  • Dry mouth or dehydration
  • Irritation or illness
  • Frequently breathing through your mouth

Luckily this common condition can be treated easily in most cases by brushing your
tongue with a toothbrush, gently using a tongue scraper, and drinking a lot of water to
help keep your mouth free of stray particles. If the white coloration doesn’t go away or if
you are seeing significant change to another color persists for over two weeks contact
your dentist.

#2: Irritation

A healthy tongue should give you no discomfort and keep its usual texture. The tongue
can become irritated and sore or even develop texture abnormalities like bumps, cracks,
and more. If your tongue is sore, painful, or develops significant deformities you should
talk to your dentist or doctor if the issues persist.
There are some very common causes of irritation that can lead to soreness or new

  • Smoking & tobacco use
  • Canker sores
  • Accidentally biting your tongue or frequently scraping your tongue with your teeth
  • Irritation from hot foods or liquids

If you frequently bite your tongue or scratch it with your teeth, you may be in need of
some repositioning or correcting of your teeth. One potential solution for this could be to
have an expert dental surgeon like Dr. Andrew Slavin at Good Samaritan Dental Implant
Institute provide you with dental implants that allow your teeth and tongue to coexist
without getting in each other’s way.

#3 Papillae

The papillae that we brought up earlier can also change if your tongue isn’t healthy. Our
Papillae grow over time and for some people they get excessively long, making them
more susceptible to holding bacteria. When this happens the tongue looks like it has
become hairy due to the dark coloration of the bacteria that grow. This condition is not
very common, and typically shows up for people with poor dental hygiene. However,
there are also other factors that might make someone vulnerable to this condition.
Individuals with diabetes, receiving chemotherapy, or taking antibiotics can also develop
this condition.
Another condition of the papillae is geographic tongue. Geographic tongue is an
inflammatory condition where the tongue has smooth red patches due to the loss of
papillae. These patches of missing papillae often resemble islands, hence the name
geographic tongue. Although geographic tongue may look strange, it does not have a
negative impact on your health and typically has no symptoms outside of the visual
change. Some people may experience discomfort when eating spicy or acidic foods,
and if the condition persists the lesions can go away and reappear in a different location
on the tongue. A definitive cause of geographic tongue is unknown, but people with a
family history of geographic tongue are at a higher risk of developing the condition.

#4 Healthy Diet, Healthy Tongue

The health of your tongue is even more impacted by your diet than you know. Not only
can eating certain kinds of food leave bacteria on your tongue as we discussed earlier
in the article, but it’s easy to forget that your tongue is a muscle! As a muscle your
tongue benefits from a diet rich with vitamins, minerals, calcium, fiber, and protein.
Vitamin deficiencies can be linked to abnormalities of the tongue and contribute to
infections. Another important aspect of this is drinking a lot of water and staying
hydrated. Having a dry tongue or being dehydrated makes your tongue more vulnerable
to holding on to bacteria. Drinking lots of water helps keep your tongue hydrated and
also helps to flush away bacteria, aiding in the prevention of bad breath as well.
In Summary…
Our tongues can tell us a lot about our health and oral hygiene. There are many
conditions that can affect the appearance, comfort, and healthiness of your tongue, and
each of these have many causes. The bottom line is that there is a recurring theme in
the prevention of most of the conditions: good oral hygiene! To reiterate, here are some
things you can do to help prevent discomfort and abnormal health conditions of your

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft bristled brush
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Use a fluoride mouthwash once daily
  • Avoid smoking and frequent alcohol consumption
  • Avoid eating extremely hot foods and drinking extremely hot liquids
  • Make sure to stay hydrated drinking lots of water
  • Eat a diet rich in fiber, lean protein, vitamins, minerals, and calcium

If you are frequently biting your tongue or experiencing discomfort as a result of
friction between your tongue and teeth, consider speaking with a specialist about
corrective options like dental implants.

Keep good habits with your oral hygiene, and if you notice any issues or abnormalities
lasting longer than 2 weeks be sure to contact your dentist or doctor to have it
examined. If you are considering or want to learn more about dental implants, schedule
a free consultation or second opinion with expert dental surgeon and dental implants
specialist Dr. Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS. Good Samaritan Dental Implant Institute in
West Palm Beach, Florida provides unmatched patient care, and dental implant patients
get free follow-up appointments for life.

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Hello there, great choice moving towards the personal dental health care you desire!

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