Did you know that your tongue can reflect your overall health? Often, when there's something off-balance with your body, your health care provider can tell just by looking at your tongue. This is especially true when it comes to dehydration. While dehydration isn't specific to just one area of the body, a dehydrated tongue can signal that you need better hydration.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that the average man and woman drink 3.7 and 2.7 litres of water every day, respectively. Unfortunately, it can be easy to neglect your body's hydration needs. That's when you become dehydrated – a state where your body doesn't have the amount of fluid required to function. Most day-to-day cases of dehydration are moderate and can be cured by increasing water or fluid intake. When dehydration becomes more serious, however, you'll notice it in your body's functions. Urination becomes dark and less frequent, and you might get a headache. As dehydration becomes more serious, Medline Plus warns that you could experience confusion, irritability, listlessness, rapid heartbeat and even unconsciousness.
When you're not hydrating properly, your body works to conserve the fluid it does have. That's why one of the first signs of dehydration is decreased saliva production. Your tongue might feel dry and even swollen as your body reduces saliva production to conserve fluid. A dry, dehydrated tongue isn't a sign that your mouth is dehydrated; it's a sign that your entire body requires more fluids.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy tongue should be pink and show small nodules, called papillae. It should also be well-moistened, with saliva functioning to help you break down food before digestion and coat and protect your teeth from germs and cavities. If your tongue is dry and rough, this could indicate that it's not well-hydrated. Drinking more water should be your first line of defence against dehydration, but you can also try chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on ice or lozenges to help relieve the dry mouth that can accompany dehydration.
If you feel like you're well-hydrated and drinking enough water every day, yet you're still suffering from a dry, dehydrated tongue, it might be a sign of a more serious issue. If the problem is chronic, it's best to talk to your health care provider. The causes of a dry tongue and mouth may include:
- Autoimmune disorders such as Addison's disease and Sjogren's ;syndrome
- A side effect of medications
- A side effect of chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Hormonal changes
While you're experiencing a dehydrated tongue, it's important to keep your teeth safe from the effects of low saliva. Brush and floss regularly, and use peroxide-free and alcohol-free mouthwashes to avoid drying out your mouth.