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What is a Healthy Tongue Color?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

The color of your tongue is a quick indicator that you could have a nutritional deficiency, dehydration, or another health or dental problem. You can easily check if you have a healthy tongue color yourself when you brush your teeth. Read on to learn what a healthy tongue looks like and what possible discolorations can indicate.

What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?

Not everybody's tongues are the same. It's easier to notice when your tongue changes color, texture, or feels differently. Many people's healthy tongues are pink, with no noticeable coatings, changing color, injuries, or discomfort.

What is Tongue Discoloration?

A discolored, oddly patterned, or bumpy tongue could be a sign of an oral or general health problem. You may notice a white coating or white patches. This could result from an oral thrush infection, alcohol or tobacco use, fever, dehydration, or a skin disease called lichen planus. Dry mouth can also cause a white tongue color. There are other possible tongue discolorations, including:

  • Black or brown tongue. A brown or black tongue can result from the use of chewing or smoking tobacco. Blue or black spots on the tongue can be caused by a small amount of amalgam filling material, which contains silver, touching the tongue during a filling procedure.
  • Yellow tongue. A yellow tongue may be a precursor to a black tongue. In most cases, both yellow and black discolorations are harmless. It may simply mean that there's a buildup of dead skin cells caught in the papillae.
  • Blue or purple tongue. An increase of blood vessels just below the tongue surface can contribute to the tongue looking blue or purple. The dilated blood vessels cause this discoloration. Tongue varicosities appear much like varicose veins in other parts of the body. These are more common on the underside of the tongue.
  • Bright red tongue. Glossitis may cause the tongue to become bright red or shiny color. Glossitis has many causes and symptoms. Other causes of a smooth, red, possibly swollen tongue include anemia, folic acid or B12 deficiency, a scarlet fever infection, or, in young children, a severe condition called Kawasaki disease.
  • Spotted tongue. Certain conditions in the mouth exist where portions of the small knob-like tongue projections, called papillae, can wear away at an inconsistent rate. Geographic tongue, also called benign migratory glossitis, is a condition where spots on the tongue appear like smooth "red islands" due to uneven shedding of cells.

Make an appointment with your dentist or physician if you notice these changes. Patients with tongue pain or trauma should seek care from a professional to see if treating their condition is necessary.

How to Maintain a Healthy Tongue Color

If your dentist or physician has ruled out a medical cause for your tongue discoloration, you can improve its appearance by gently brushing twice a day at the same time that you clean your teeth and gums. Brush with a toothbrush that includes a cheek and tongue cleaner. You may notice fresher breath too!

Tongue discoloration or changes in texture or taste may signal something up with your oral health. Keeping up regular checkups will take care of your entire body, including your mouth.

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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