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What Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Oral Health 

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What Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Oral Health

Did you ever stop and think about how amazing your tongue is? For one thing, it’s the only muscle in your body that works without the support of your skeleton. That’s why your tongue is so flexible, which enables you to change its shape, move it around to make sounds, assist your teeth in chewing, as well as taste, swallow, and even remove debris from your teeth after eating.

And your tongue can also be a great indicator of health issues that are happening inside your mouth. Here are some ways that your tongue may try to communicate with you:

Burning Tongue – If you often feel like you just rinsed your mouth with boiling water, you may have Burning Mouth Syndorme (BMS). People with this condition frequently experience a scalding sensation on their tongue, which can extend to gums, lips, roof of the mouth, inside cheeks, and the back of their mouth and throat. BMS can be caused by many health issues, including dental problems ranging from poorly fitting dentures or bridges, oral infections, gum disease and tooth decay. See your dentist for help in diagnosing and treatment options.

Hairy Tongue – If your tongue has a fuzzy, dark texture, you may need to step up your hygiene routine. The “hair” is probably overgrown papillae (small nodules that are home to your tongue’s tastebuds) which have absorbed bacteria and turned dark. Fuzzy tongue isn’t usually dangerous, but it can give you bad breath and a weird taste in your mouth, plus you may not like the way it looks. You can make the fuzz go away with regular brushing of your teeth and tongue, followed by an antiseptic rinse. Think about using a tongue scraper too, for a really clean tongue. Tongue scraping devices made from plastic, copper or stainless steel are available at most drug stores and generally cost under $10. And some toothbrushes now come with a tongue scraper on the back of the brush head or handle.

Teeth Marks – If you notice tooth-shaped indentations on your tongue, chances are you are grinding your teeth while sleeping. No surprise, because about 70% of all teeth grinding happens when we’re sleeping and its common for people to be totally unaware they are nocturnal gnashers. Other signs of teeth-grinding include a sore jaw, a clicking sound when you open your mouth, a dull constant headache that originates around the temples, tenderness around the sides of your face, and an increased sensitivity to hot and cold food (or drinks). Occasional bouts of bruxism – the formal term for teeth grinding and clenching – are usually no big deal. But if you are a constant grinder it can, in the worst cases, weaken teeth, fracture fillings, crack crowns and destroy dentures. See your dentist for treatment options.

Sour Tongue – If you often experience a sour or metallic taste in your mouth, you could have infected teeth or gums, an overly dry mouth, or ineffectual oral hygiene. But this can also be caused by certain medications, a shortage in specific minerals and vitamins, especially B12 and zinc, or medical conditions. See your dentist or healthcare professional to figure out what’s causing the problem, and how to manage it. (PS: If you don’t have a sour tongue, but nothing that you eat or drink tastes good to you, find out more about what to do.)

Colorful Tongue – If your tongue has changed from a healthy pink to white, red, yellow or black, see a dentist or other healthcare professional. Color changes may be caused by bacteria or fungus overgrowth, and the underlying cause can be anything from dentures that need to be carefully cleaned to diabetes and other medical conditions. You may need antifungal medication, vitamins or dry mouth remedies, or other medical care to address the issue.

Take Good Care of Your Tongue!

Your tongue’s rough surface makes it a great place for bacteria to live. That’s nice for the bacteria, but not nice for you – bacteria buildup on your tongue causes bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.

Make taking care of your tongue part of your regular oral health routine. Clean your tongue each time you brush your teeth, using a soft toothbrush and gentle pressure to clean the entire surface of your tongue. Consider using a tongue scraper to clean your tongue, then rinse with water or an anti-bacterial mouthwash. And be sure to spit it out! You want the bacteria off your tongue and out of your body.

And remember, no matter how good a job you do of maintaining your health at home, getting your wellness and dental checkups is critical to your overall health, as well. If budget is a concern, consider a dental savings plan, which can save plan members 10-60% on most dental procedures. Many plans also come with other wellness savings, such as discounts on prescription drugs, hearing, vision, and chiropractic care, as well as telehealth services.

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