What Should a Healthy Tongue Look and Feel Like?

Jamie J. Alexander on January 24, 2018

A Healthy Tongue Is…

If your tongue is healthy, it is pink. The papillae (“taste buds”) are small. It isn’t sore.
Your tongue is one of the most used and pliable organs of your body. In fact, it moves constantly. Its stamina is “pretty darn remarkable.” How does your tongue do that and not fatigue?
Maureen Stone of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry has written, “The tongue’s tenacity springs from the way it is built—with lots of similar bits of muscle that can each perform the same task…There’s a lot of redundancy in the muscle architecture. You simply activate different muscle fibers and get the same result.”

Multiple muscles make up your tongue, and there are four muscles that anchor the tongue to your head and neck. One connects to the base of the skull. One connects to a bone in the throat. One is connected to the lower jaw, and one is wrapped around the palate. These work together to move the tongue from side to side, front to back and up and down. Pretty remarkable!
A healthy tongue is essential for speaking, eating and swallowing well and with comfort. And when we develop health conditions that make using the tongue uncomfortable, their social life, nutrition, and emotional state are compromised.

If you are concerned about the color of your tongue or discomfort, perhaps, a burning sensation or loss of taste, then I’m here to take a look and discuss the possible causes and what can be done to treat the problem and recover a healthy tongue.

Patients ask me, “Doc, why is my tongue white?” Sometimes they are overly concerned, and their tongue is discolored just a bit from something they ate recently. Other times, it’s not white they are seeing but a very pale yellow. And in this case, it’s usually caused by a head cold or another virus that has made them susceptible to certain types of bacteria taking hold in the mouth and temporarily discoloring the taste buds. Sometimes, the tongue reacts to irritating foods and beverages and you will see white lines on the taste buds. The body usually takes care of these discolorations on its own. But, then, there are conditions that can advance, such as leukoplakia (a precursor to cancer) or oral thrush (candidiasis or “yeast infection”) that we should diagnosis, talk about, and treat. If you suspect you have a yeast infection, eat live bacteria yogurt for a couple of days and if the tongue does not change, by all means, give me a call. We can diagnose and treat this.
Vitamin deficiencies can cause a tongue to turn red or look shiny. This is sometimes called “a strawberry tongue.” I rarely see this among my own patients. On the other hand, because a lot of young families come here for their dental care, we do red tongues in children especially young children can occur as result of Kawasaki syndrome.

A Few Words About Kawasaki Syndrome

This disease is usually seen in children under the age of 5. Kawasaki disease affects the blood vessels in the body and can cause the tongue to become red and painful. During the severe phase of illness, children often run an extremely high fever and may also have redness and swelling in the hands and feet. If you see signs of this, call your family pediatrician immediately!
“Though a rare condition here in the United States, 1 in 10,000 children, I feel as a parent myself, this is good information to know”, says Dr. Jamie Alexander.
Young children easily decline water, juice, milk and even soft foods because it hurts to swallow, and then dehydration occurs. Here are some helpful links to learn more about this:

Ask Me About Your Tongue

If you are concerned about or have a question about your tongue, it is never a silly question. By looking at your tongue, I can alleviate most concerns immediately, and in other cases, we can “get to the bottom” of what is occurring.
Here’s to a healthy tongue and all the remarkable things it does for us!

~ Jamie J. Alexander, D.D.S., Your Boynton Beach Dentist