Bellingham Dentist

Changes in Tongue Color are Health Alerts

What is the color of your tongue?

A healthy tongue is light pink in color. That’s perhaps the source of the expression that one is in the ‘pink’ of health. Yet you might wake up one day finding an unexpectedly weird coloring or texture on your tongue that doesn’t seem normal. There are many harmless things that can change the color and coating on your tongue. It’s good to know what these changes really mean to you and your health.

White Tongue. A thick or heavy white coating on the surface of the tongue, called ‘Leukoplakia’. It may be due to irritation or cigarette smoke from heavy smokers. It’s not to be mistaken with oral thrush, which looks like a while layer of cottage cheese on the tongue, associated with diabetes or suppressed immune system.

Red Tongue. The tongue has a “mapped” appearance. Also called ‘geographic tongue’. The red and white patterns look like a map, like dots of smooth little islands. It’s quite common and not serious. Cause is unknown.

Red Tip of the Tongue. It can signify mental or emotional stress, flaring up during high-stress situations and resolving once the stressors settled down. It can also be the result of psychological medication changing the hydration of the mouth. The mouth is affected, as well as the color of the tongue.

Black Hairy Tongue. This is due to a buildup of bacteria. This is also found in smokers who could use a tongue scraper plus one or two extra cleanings a year at the dentist. A drug called Pepto-Bismol, which contains bisthmus, can also turn the surface of the tongue black.

Yellow Tongue. This may mean a liver or stomach problem. Yellow may mean a disease is just starting, ending up being brown or black as the disease advances. The most common causes of a yellow tongue can be poor dental hygiene, smoking, or certain medications. Improving oral hygiene can treat it.

Brown Tongue. This is usually coming from the food and drinks you take. A brown discoloration can be due to heavy coffee drinking and/or smoking. A permanent brown may mean lung problems due to chronic smoking.

Blue or Purple Tongue. This color can mean that the heart is not pumping blood properly, or if there is a lack of oxygen in the body. Must see a doctor immediately.

Pale Tongue. This can indicate a vitamin B12 and vitamin A deficiency which can be treated with diet change or supplements.


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This may not define the health of your tongue, but as a reference. If you have any questions or see any strange symptoms, please contact our office to make an appointment.