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.