The tongue is an important tool. Not only is it our main source of the sensation of taste, it plays an essential role in speaking and swallowing. In addition to the functions that you probably already know about the tongue, it can actually serve as a window into your overall health.
Dehydration is a simple but serious problem. When your body does not have enough water, it can lead to headaches, fatigue, weight gain, and of course, dry mouth. Severe dehydration can even lead to kidney failure.
When someone is dehydrated, the tongue appears dry and typically has a white or white-to-yellowish coating. In some cases, the tongue can appear patchy or splotchy. If your tongue commonly sticks to the roof of your mouth, you are dehydrated!
Begin by taking the simple first step of increasing your water intake and avoiding beverages that cause dehydration, like alcohol, caffeine and those high in sugar.
When the body stops making enough thyroid hormone, we typically see signs of it in the mouth. A condition known as Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid. Patients with Hashimoto’s often experience an enlarged tongue. This may impair the ability to speak and swallow normally. Hashimoto’s patients also tend to have a dry mouth, high risk for gum disease, and an alteration in the sensation of taste.
Some women with low estrogen levels during menopause experience a swollen, red smooth-surfaced tongue.
The tongue is very sensitive to deficiencies in certain nutrients. The good news is that once you identify the deficiency, your tongue can actually tell you when you are treating it properly and receiving the right amount of that nutrient.
When the tongue is sensitive, splotchy, swollen or burning, the first step is hydration. Once you know you are not dehydrated, then you need to rule out a nutritional deficiency. The way to get an accurate diagnosis is through bloodwork with your medical doctor.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Aphthous ulcers (canker sores) – If you suffer from frequent ulcers on your tongue, you could have a deficiency in Zinc or a problem with nutrients absorbing through your GI tract. Some patients with Celiac Disease suffer from frequent mouth ulcers.
- Inflamed, red, sore tongue – This condition, known as glossitis, is associated with a few vitamin deficiencies, including Vitamin B9 and B12. Iron and folate deficiencies can cause this, too.
- Tongue with splotchy smooth areas – Many people are familiar with the condition known as geographic tongue, named so because it may resemble a map of the world. The smooth areas represent a loss of the tiny bumps on the tongue called papillae, and they can change over time to different areas. The overall appearance of the tongue is splotchy and red. When this condition causes burning or stinging in the tongue, you should investigate the possibility of a Zinc deficiency.
Potential Warning Sign of COVID-19 Infection
The novel coronavirus confounds many of us in its wide variety of presenting signs and symptoms. One symptom that has been consistently present in patients testing positive for COVID-19 infection is the loss of the sensation of taste.
While the loss of taste is very low on our list of concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be an important indicator of infection, so it is definitely something to which we should pay close attention.
More Questions about What Your Tongue is Telling You?
If you notice anything unusual about your tongue, call Rockland Dental Specialists today to schedule a consultation. Our periodontist is an expert at diagnosing problems affecting the soft tissues inside the mouth, including those of the tongue. We are happy to help you determine what is going on and get you on the right track to improvement.