Oral health involves every component of your mouth – your teeth, jaws, and ligaments, as well as your gums and soft tissues. It also involves your muscles, including the ones that make up your tongue. Proper oral health and care means maintaining the well-being of all components in your mouth, including your tongue.
The Tongue — A Marvelous Instrument
The tongue is an amazing part of the human body. We use it to communicate, sing, play music, taste foods and drinks, and much more. What makes it so versatile? The tongue consists of eight different muscles — four of which attach to bone, like the jaw. However, four are not anchored down, so they can expand and contract, allowing us to fold, flatten, or maneuver our tongue in different configurations. How many different ways can your fold, twist, or configure your tongue? Go ahead and try it — it’s good exercise! The ways you can move your tongue, it’s size and other factors are controlled in part by genetics, making the tongue one of the tell-tale ways to study paternity/maternity issues.
But the wonder of the tongue doesn’t stop there! It’s covered with little bumps called papillae. There are four different types of papillae on your tongue, and many of them contain taste buds. Taste buds allow us to enjoy different foods and drinks. Also, as we discussed in a previous post, different areas of the tongue are more sensitive to different flavors, but all areas register different tastes.
The Good, the Bad, and the Hairy About Tongues
A good, healthy tongue is pink – perhaps with a little white residue from plaque or bacteria. If you just finished a colorful food or drink, your tongue might be temporarily stained with that color, but your regular routine of brushing twice a day maintains a healthy shade of pink, not red, white or black. If your tongue stays a different color than pink, there might be issues that require dental or medical attention.
- White tongue — This is typically a result of oral thrush, often seen in patients who wear dentures, have weakened immune symptoms, or underlying conditions like diabetes. A white tongue could also indicate oral cancer.
- Red tongue — A red tongue sometimes indicates a deficiency in folic acid or vitamin B-12. Young children under the age of five with a red tongue, heightened fever and inflamed arteries have a condition called Kawasaki disease, and medical attention is highly recommended. There is also a condition called geographic tongue, where red blotches form, looking like little islands. This condition is relatively harmless.
- Black or Hairy tongue — the papillae on your tongue get replaced throughout your lifetime, but occasionally they grow excessively long, and begin to look like little hairs. This condition often attracts heavy bacterial formations, sometimes resulting in a black color on the tongue. This condition looks a lot worse than it actually is, and a regular routine of oral hygiene including brushing, flossing and mouthwash helps alleviate the issue over time.
Keep an Eye on Your Tongue
Unless you use a mirror, it’s pretty much impossible to physically keep an eye on your tongue. However, we can do that for you as we inspect your teeth and mouth during your next checkup at the Placerville Dental Group.
Granted, bite your tongue and swelling and pain develop, maybe even some bleeding, but the tongue is adept at healing wounds like that within a few days. If you ever have lasting uncomfortable soreness, difficulty speaking, or abnormal colorations that won’t go away on your tongue, please let your medical professional or your team at the Placerville Dental Group know. We want your tongue to keep working properly with the rest of your mouth! Give us a call, or schedule an appointment online to make sure your tongue speaks volumes about how healthy you are!