The shape, color and coating of your tongue provides a unique reflection of your overall health. It’s the organ that helps you communicate with others and nourish the body, but have you really thought about its importance so far? Taking good care of the tongue is instrumental for a healthy mouth and much more.
The tongue is a muscle composed of all three embryonic germ layers – endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm. Among other things, when the embryon grows into a fetus, the ectoderm gives rise to the central and the peripheral nervous system, the mesoderm gives rise to connective tissue, the kidneys and the bones and muscles, and the entoderm gives rise to the epithelial lining of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, the liver and the pancreas. And our tongues contain them all, which makes it a valuable diagnostic tool for the well-being of the whole organism.
From an anatomical standpoint, the tongue consists of three main parts: apex (or the tip of the tongue), body, and root (the part where the tongue attaches to the base of the mouth). It’s covered with a moist tissue called the mucosa, which contains hundreds of little bumps, or papillae – they hold the taste buds that allow us to differentiate between sweet, bitter, salty and sour tastes (there is a fifth taste, called umami, associated with tasting glutamate). Evolutionarily speaking, this ability has helped human kind survive by enabling a sensory difference between poisonous and nourishing food. Furthermore, the condition of your tongue provides many clues about your whole lifestyle and diet, the state of digestive function and any possible internal health problems. For example, chinese medicine is famous for strongly accentuating the clinical importance of the tongue’s health by determining its color, shape and coating in the early diagnostic process.
How does the coating of a perfectly healthy tongue look like?
The first representative of a healthy digestive system is a thin, white film on the coating of the tongue, made up of bacteria that’s normally found in the mouth.
On the other hand, a thick or removable coating indicates some kind of functional imbalance in the body, coming from a recent injury or an unhealthy lifestyle. For example:
- A very thick, heavy white coating can be associated with a viral infection or a system in the body that has become weak and unable to function optimally.
- A thick coating with yellow color reflects a high degree of heat in the body and can be linked to inflammation or a bacterial infection.
- When the coating in certain areas peels off easily, it’s a serious sign of an exhausted, malfunctioning physiological organism, possibly troubled by an allergic disorder or an autoimmune disease.
What’s the ideal tongue color?
The tongue’s color is another valid representation of a person’s health since it takes a long time for it to change and ideally it should be a pale-red, signaling a healthy blood circulation throughout the body.
Other tongue colors include:
A white or pale tongue is most commonly linked with frequent alcohol consumption, smoking and a dry mouth. Also, it could be a symptom of a severe fever and dehydration or digestive problems. If the paleness is extreme, it can be a sign of blood problems and deficiencies, including pernicious anemia (vitamin B12 deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia. In other cases, a white tongue can also be the result of:
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- Leukoplakia: a condition of abnormal growth of the cells on the tongue surface, most often caused by chronic irritation of the tongue by chewing tobacco leaves.
- Hairy leukoplakia: linked to an Epstein-Barr viral infection in people with chronically weak immune systems, like in HIV/AIDS.
- Oral Thrush: a fungal disease of the mouth caused by an candidiasis or yeast infection, also most common in people with depressed imune systems.
- Oral Lichen Planus: a relatively unknown condition that creates white lines on the inside of the mouth, including the tongue, accompanied by open red sores. Possible causes are infections, allergies, vaccines and certain medications.
- Syphilis: tongue whiteness can also be an oral manifestation of a syphilis infection.
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