The tongue might not be something you think about all that often. But your tongue plays a big role in your everyday life. You need it to taste, speak and swallow. It also plays a role in the production of saliva, helps you chew and protects the rest of your body from bad bacteria and other germs, according to PubMed Health. An abnormal tongue can make it difficult to do the things many people take for granted. In many cases, problems with the tongue can be easily treated, although rarer conditions might need more complicated medical treatments.
If you studied Greek, you might have figured out that "macroglossia" is another way of saying "large tongue." Macroglossia is fairly rare and usually occurs along with a congenital condition or develops as a result of an acquired condition. In the rarest of cases, a person can be born with an enlarged tongue as a hereditary trait. But, the National Organization for Rare Disorders reports there are only about 50 recorded cases.
If macroglossia develops because of another condition, such as hypothyroidism or tuberculosis, treating the underlying condition can often help reduce the size of the tongue. Surgery can also be an option to reduce the tongue's size. In many cases, surgically reducing the tongue improves a person's ability to eat and speak and can also improve appearance, notes the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.
1. Scrotal Tongue
Scrotal tongue, sometimes called fissured tongue, is another fairly rare tongue abnormality, at least in the United States. It only affects up to 5 percent of people in the U.S., but may be present in up to 21 percent of the global population. The key sign of scrotal tongue is the appearance of grooves on the tongue's surface. The grooves, or fissures, give the tongue a wrinkly look and texture.
The good news about scrotal tongue is that it's usually a harmless condition. Your tongue might look different from other people's, but it shouldn't affect the way you speak, taste or chew. The most common issue people have with a fissured tongue is a burning feeling when they eat spicy or acidic foods.
The grooves in the tongue can provide a good spot for bacteria to hide, which means that it's worth giving your oral hygiene a bit of extra attention if you do have a fissured tongue. Brush twice a day to remove pieces of food, plaque and bacteria from the tongue and consider using a toothbrush with an innovative cheek and tongue cleaner design, such as the Colgate 360° Advanced 4 Zone toothbrush.
2. Hairy Tongue
Speaking of keeping the tongue and the rest of the mouth clean, here's another reason to be diligent about oral hygiene. The tongue can develop a "hairy" texture if you don't brush your teeth frequently. A hairy tongue isn't actually sprouting hairs. The "hairiness" comes from an overgrowth of the papillae, the projections on the surface of the tongue, explains The American Academy of Oral Medicine.
A hairy tongue can look alarming and might be accompanied by bad breath or an abnormal taste. Often, brushing your teeth is enough to clear up the issue. If the hairy texture persists, it's a good idea to see your dentist, as they can help you figure out what's going on.
3. Abnormal Tongue Colors
A healthy tongue is usually a pink tongue. If your tongue is a different hue, that can be a sign that something's going wrong. For example, a white coating on the tongue can signal anything from a dry mouth to oral thrush. A red tongue with a smooth texture can be a sign of a niacin (B3) deficiency, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center, while a pale tongue can be a sign of anemia. Treating the underlying issue, whether it's a yeast infection or nutritional deficiency, should help restore your tongue to its healthy pink color.
How's your tongue doing? If you see anything that looks unusual on your tongue, talk to your dentist. He can let you know what you can do to restore your tongue to its usual color and texture.