You probably take your tongue's color for granted. After all, everyone's tongue is a rich and healthy pink color, right? As it turns out, certain health issues can actually alter the color of your tongue, making them dead giveaways for health care providers. While a pink tongue is best — with color and shade varying from person to person — here are some colors and patterns that might give you a clue that something's amiss.
If Your Tongue Is White
Have you noticed that your tongue has large patches of white or is even white all over? A lacy white pattern over the surface of the tongue could indicate oral lichen planus, a disorder that can cause a burning sensation in the mouth, according to the National Health Service. While you may not need any treatment, your doctor might prescribe an oral spray to help you feel more comfortable.
If you notice that the white can be scraped off, it could be a sign of oral thrush, which is a yeast infection of the mouth common in babies and the elderly. Thrush requires antifungal medication, so see your doctor if you suspect that you have it.
White patches that can't be scraped away could indicate leukoplakia, according to the Mayo Clinic. While painless, these patches are sometimes a precursor to oral cancer. It's always best to have your dentist or doctor take a look to monitor the size and shape of existing patches as well as any that might appear.
If Your Tongue Is Red
A pink tongue is what you're looking for, but if that healthy salmon color deepens to red, be sure to take note. A bright red tongue can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency — particularly vitamin B12, according to the National Library of Health's MedlinePlus. You can bump up your B12 intake through a variety of foods, though depending on your dietary restrictions, you may also consider taking a multivitamin supplement.
A tongue covered in red bumps is known as "strawberry tongue" and is a symptom of scarlet fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While scarlet fever is often a mild condition, treatment is necessary, so it's important to see your doctor for antibiotics and monitoring.
If Your Tongue Is Black
A bacterial infection can cause what's known as "black hairy tongue." (While your tongue won't actually sprout hair, the pattern of black patches can look "hairy.") Caused by overgrown papillae — the bumps that cover your tongue — it's common in smokers but can also affect people who practice poor oral hygiene, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The best way to get rid of a black tongue is to practice good oral care habits. You can benefit from supplementing your twice daily brushing routine with an antibacterial rinse like Colgate Total Advanced Health mouthwash, which kills 99 percent of germs on contact.
Your tongue helps you taste, but it also offers a peek into your overall health and even your propensity for serious illness. Give your tongue a once-over every morning to ensure that it has a rich and healthy pink color without patches or discoloration. Your tongue — and your body — will thank you.