When you look after your mouth health, you probably brush your teeth and floss your gums, but rarely is much thought given to the health of your tongue. This important organ is used every day to help you taste food, chew and swallow – so it’s extremely important and should you notice any changes in it, it can be a sign of a bigger underlying problem or health condition. When your teeth are giving you trouble, you might suffer from sensitivity, and if your gums are problematic they may be swollen or bleed – but how do you know when your tongue is healthy? Here are some common tongue complaints and what they mean, to help you maintain better overall health in your mouth.
Tongue and mouth ulcers are common complaints, and they look like small blisters which can be quite painful. Although not usually serious, ulcers can be a bit inconvenient so the best way to treat them is to manage the pain and speed up recovery to reduce the chance of infection. Your dentist may point these out to you if they notice them during a check-up but the best way to get treatment is to go to your pharmacist for a mouthwash or painkiller gel. See a GP if they become more severe or recurring, or if you think they might have become infected. You can manage this condition easily by avoiding the triggers which give you them – for some people they are caused by certain foods, for others they could be stress related. Knowing your own personal triggers will help you prevent them in the future.
If your tongue has irregular red areas with wavy white lines next to them (which look similar to a map outline) you could be suffering from geographic tongue. This is a common condition, not an infection, and is often hereditary. It is caused by sections of the top layer of the tongue coming away, leaving the red patches. Its official name is benign migratory glossitis, and while it has no cure, symptoms normally only last for around a week and are generally painless.
If your dentist notices that your tongue is unusually red, it could be a sign of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. It may also be accompanied by sores or discolouration of the mouth and some fissures on the tongue’s surface. B12 is an essential vitamin but one which our bodies can’t produce naturally, so we need it from food sources or supplements. If you are suffering from a lack of Vitamin B12, you can find it in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products – these are also great sources of calcium for keeping your teeth and bones strong.
If you wear dentures, you may be more prone to oral thrush. Thrush is very common in the mouth and occurs when a yeast infection develops on the inside of your mouth and on your tongue, and although it is generally harmless it can be irritating. Symptoms can include white spots inside your mouth which when rubbed off can leave red spots which may bleed, cracks in the corner of your mouth and an unpleasant taste. Management of this condition is fairly straightforward – keep your dentures clean, don’t wear them at night and if you notice that they haven’t been fitting as comfortably, talk to your dentist about getting replacements or seeking alternative options for lost teeth.