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What your tongue can tell you about your health (including iron deficiency and herpes)

Fingerlickin' fun facts

21 Dec 2018

Talking, snogging, licking ice-cream, making babies laugh – our tongues are pretty incredible tools.

Like pooing and weeing, it's one of those bodily limbs and functions that we never take too much notice of, until someone asks if you can make a 'clover', of course.

But if you take a closer look, that slippery muscular organ in your mouth can actually pose some pretty important health signs.

What does a 'normal tongue' look like?

Before we talk about different 'symptoms', you'll need to know what a normal and healthy licker should look like.

Dr Imogen Bexfield, Medical Director at says, "The colour will vary from person to person, but generally it should be pink with little bumps on it that are called papillae."

So what if it looks different to that?

If your tongue has turned red and smooth...

According to Dr Imogen, this can indicate an iron deficiency or viral infection. If you notice any changes in the colour of your tongue, it's worth being checked by a dentist.

If your tongue has developed a white coating...

Some people may develop a white coating on their tongue as a result of 'dry mouth'. "This can be caused by certain medication or be an age-related change", says Dr Imogen. "Reduced saliva can mean you're more likely to develop dental cavities and your dentist may prescribe you a high fluoride toothpaste to protect them."

"A white coating can also indicate 'lichen planus', which is an inflammatory condition, and this can also make the gums very red and sore."

If your tongue has ulcers...

Speaking of sores, if your tongue develops ulcers, this is usually as a result of some kind of trauma to the mouth or tongue. Eg. Burning your mouth with hot food or biting.

"However, ulcers and other abnormalities in the mouth can also be one of the first signs of an underlying health condition, including viruses such as herpes or an iron deficiency."

If your tongue has become bumpy...

Bumps aren't overly worrisome. Dr Imogen says that sometimes the filiform papillae on the tongues surface can overgrow, making the tongue appear bumpy.

"Usually this is simply because the type of food being eaten is not abrasive enough and this can be rectified with a tongue scraper."

If your tongue has a mixture of red and white patches/lumps...

This one could be more cause for concern. If you spot any white and red or a mixture of white andred patches or lumps on your tongue, this could be a sign of oral cancer.

"If you are concerned then visit your dentist for an oral cancer check, this is something dentists will do every time they check your teeth and is one of the reasons why dental examinations are so important."