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Open Wide: What Does Your Tongue Look Like?

Open Wide: What Does Your Tongue Look Like?

THE SCIENCE OF SMILES best dentist pasadena caYour tongue is commonly called the most powerful muscle in the body. But really, it’s actually made up of 8 different muscles that all work in unison to help you form words and talk, taste food, and swallow.

Your tongue also serves as a window to your overall health.  If something is off inside your body, your tongue may show signs. So what should you be looking for when you open wide?

First things first, let’s talk about a healthy tongue. It’s typically pink and covered with papillae:  small nodules with taste buds on top. The average person has about 10,000 of these projections, and they’re replaced every two weeks.

But what if your tongue is not pink? What if it’s a shade you’re not used to seeing?

Let’s explore a few color shifts and what certain signs could mean:


A tongue with a thick white film could indicate the following:

  • Leukoplakia:  Cells of the tongue sometimes overgrow and produce a white film or patch, especially in areas of irritation. Tobacco is a well-known irritant along with ill-fitting dentures. Leukoplakia isn’t dangerous, but it can lead to cancer in some cases. This should be evaluated.
  • Thrush:  Oral thrush, or candidiasis, is a yeast infection that can lead to excessive, thick white patches.  Babies and elderly patients sometimes get thrush, a condition that may thrive under dentures also. Diabetics, immune-compromised patients, or people using antibiotics may develop candidiasis. We can help if you’re dealing with thrush.
  • Lichen Planus: This condition has an unclear cause, but it’s marked by raised white lines interlaced on your tongue. Sometimes eliminating certain foods or improving your oral home care will bring things back to normal.


A tongue with a strong red hue could indicate the following:

  • Vitamin Deficiencies: The tongue may take on a generalized reddish appearance if you lack B-12 or folic acid.
  • Scarlet Fever:  If you come down with a high fever and a red tongue, you need to see your doctor right away.  If you have Scarlet Fever, antibiotics are required.
  • Geographic Tongue: If you notice red dots with meandering borders resembling a map, you may have this condition.  While it’s benign, certain ointments can be prescribed if it results in any discomfort.


Remember the papillae I mentioned earlier?  Sometimes they overgrow and become a haven for bacteria and stain.

Chemotherapy, diabetic, or antibiotic patients may also deal with black hairy tongue. While it doesn’t look pleasant and can contribute to bad breath, it rarely indicates a serious problem.

Usually better oral hygiene and tongue cleaning will take care of it, and our team can help you find a personalized strategy to deal with it.


While discomfort characterizes some tongue conditions, many changes could go unnoticed. Like for all our patients, we monitor the surfaces of your mouth for any alterations, including on and around your tongue. We can help you determine which ones reflect concerns requiring further evaluation or monitoring.

If you notice any of these changes, be sure to schedule an exam with us. By seeing us for your regular preventive visits, we’ll help monitor your teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth lining for optimal health!


THE SCIENCE OF SMILES® offers affordable cosmetic and laser dentistry and gentle, compassionate general dental care in Pasadena, CA. Our office is conveniently located with extended hours to meet your needs. At THE SCIENCE OF SMILES®, we provide most dental services, from basic preventative care and general dentistry to specialized procedures and complete dental reconstruction. Patient satisfaction is our top priority and we strive to provide the exceptional, affordable dental care and personal touch that lead to lasting relationships. A smiling patient is our greatest reward and we look forward to keeping those smiles healthy, beautiful, and bright. Discover affordable up-to-date dentistry and a team who truly cares at THE SCIENCE OF SMILES®.

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