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Types Of Abnormal Tongues And What They Look Like

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

While your tongue may appear to be a small part of your body, there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about it playing a starring role for you. Without your tongue, you’d be unable to speak, taste, chew, and swallow properly. It also aids your body from certain germs and bacteria. When certain conditions or abnormalities are affecting your tongue, those everyday things can be extremely burdensome. Fortunately, nearly all of the different types of tongue issues can be easily diagnosed and treated.

What Are Some Tongue Abnormalities

Your tongue can be affected in several ways. Some abnormalities are more prevalent than others. Those include:

  • Macroglossia: Also referred to as ‘large tongue,’ macroglossia most often occurs when a congenital or acquired condition is present. Treating another disease, like hypothyroidism or tuberculosis, can often reduce the size of the tongue. Surgery is also an option. Your eating and speaking could improve with tongue reduction surgery.
  • Scrotal tongue: Also referred to as ‘fissured tongue,’ scrotal tongue is present in about 20% of the world population. The main symptom of scrotal tongue is the grooves that appear on the tongue’s surface. They look wrinkly and textured and sometimes can hide bacteria, which, when infected, can burn when eating spicy or acidic foods. Other than that, it’s relatively harmless and shouldn’t affect your speaking, tasting, or chewing. Brushing your tongue twice a day with a cheek and tongue cleaner will undoubtedly help.

What Are Some Common Tongue Conditions

Some tongue conditions are quite common can be quickly diagnosed and treated. They include:

  • Hairy tongue: When your tongue develops a fuzzy texture from infrequent brushing, it’s known as hairy tongue or ‘black hairy tongue.’ While they appear to look like hairs, it’s actually papillae on the surface of your tongue that have overgrown. About 13% of the population, mostly men, are affected by it, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine. When these papillae give your tongue its texture don’t shed properly, they tend to overgrow, trap bacteria, and turn to black, which looks like tiny black hairs. While the look of it, bad breath, and abnormal taste can be somewhat disturbing — it’s harmless. Regular brushing of your teeth and tongue can effectively treat it. A tongue cleaner is a useful aid in removing bacteria from your mouth.
  • Abnormal tongue colors: When your tongue is a pinkish hue, it means you got a healthy one. But when it turns specific colors, it may need further attention. Vitamins, antifungal medication, and other dry mouth remedies may be needed for treatment. Consult your medical professional to diagnose and treat properly.
  • Kawasaki disease: A much more severe condition that causes heart disease in children, known as Kawasaki Disease, occurs when your red blood cells become inflamed. The majority of cases are boys five years old and younger. A virus is the most likely source — causing cracked, swollen, bright red lips, swollen hands and feet, swollen neck lymph nodes, a fever lasting five or more days, red, bloodshot eyes, rashes, and strawberry tongue. A strawberry tongue is when your tongue becomes swollen, bright red, and bumpy. Immediate medical attention is required if you feel you or your child experiences these symptoms.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome: Most often found in women, it can affect the entire body, but the most common symptom is little moisture in the eyes and mouth — leading to dry mouth. Dry mouth indicates a lack of saliva production, which in turn can cause cracking and burning in the mouth and on the tongue, making it extremely difficult to speak, chew, and swallow. Plus, bacteria aren’t washed away as much, leading to tooth decay. See your dental or medical provider immediately if you feel these symptoms are affecting you.

While it may not be top of mind, what’s going on atop your tongue is essential. Be sure to clean it twice every day after brushing your teeth. If you experience any of the symptoms or conditions above— seek professional help from your dentist or doctor as soon as possible to keep your tongue and mouth happy and healthy.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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