The tongue is an organ you may not give much thought to until it looks or feels funny. You may jump to a conclusion that you've contracted a tongue disease, though what you may have is an underlying condition that affects your tongue. If you exclude any form of trauma to the tongue, it still leaves a substantial number of congenital, acquired and autoimmune conditions that may cause potential tongue problems.
1. Kawasaki Disease
This is not technically a disease of the tongue, but a brightly-colored, "strawberry tongue" and red, cracked lips in children are common symptoms of Kawasaki disease, according to the Kawasaki Disease Foundation. If your child develops tongue discoloration accompanied by a fever lasting longer than five days, a sore throat and diarrhea, they may have the condition. Kawasaki disease causes inflammation of the blood vessels, and symptoms often include enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and redness or rash that affects the eyes, lips, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the genital area. This condition is serious and requires immediate medical treatment to avoid heart problems and other complications, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
2. Black Hairy Tongue
It sounds impossible to believe, but hair on the tongue isn't as unusual as you might expect. It develops in up to 13 percent of the population, when mainly older, male patients, often get what appear to be tiny black hairs on their tongue, describes The American Academy of Oral Medicine. These are in fact the papillae that give the tongue its rough texture that haven't been sloughed off correctly for some reason. Instead of shedding and being renewed, the papillae grow longer and tangled, trapping leftover food and the resulting bacteria among them. This causes discoloration that makes the papillae appear black.
This condition is harmless and temporary, and you can avoid it by practicing a good daily oral hygiene program and using a toothbrush that has a tongue cleaner on the back.
3. Sjögren's Syndrome
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects many areas of the body, including the salivary glands. The salivary glands don't produce enough saliva, which leads to dry mouth and tongue problems, such as cracking and burning, according to the The National Resource Center on Lupus. Additionally, speaking, swallowing and eating and the decreased saliva may make your teeth more susceptible to decay because bacteria and food particles aren't washed away from the teeth.
Team up with your physician and dentist to address your systemic and oral symptoms to ensure your teeth and tongue health. What you may think is a tongue disease could be an entirely other condition that affects the tongue.