Why do doctors look at your tongue?


Medical diagnostic science has made significant advances that make it easier for physicians to diagnose a specific disease or health condition. There is a plethora of tests available that can eliminate any doubt and help in making an accurate diagnosis.

During the preliminary examination, however, the doctor can also look at your tongue in addition to asking about your symptoms. We wonder why doctors look at the tongue. What does the tongue tell us about our health? To answer such questions, here are some things you need to know. Remember that a healthy tongue is pink and has small nodules (papillae).

White coating or white spots – This could indicate a yeast infection in the mouth. This condition has been observed more frequently in infants and the elderly. People with weakened immune systems or those taking inhaled anti-inflammatory steroids can also suffer from this condition. Antibiotics can also cause a white coating on the tongue.

red tongue – A red tongue can be linked to various health conditions. Based on this symptom, the doctor may order further tests. One of the reasons for a red tongue could be a lack of vitamin B9 (folic acid) and vitamin B12. Another condition is geographic tongue, characterized by a pattern of reddish spots. However, this is usually harmless. Red tongue can indicate scarlet fever, which is characterized by a red and bumpy appearance. Similar patterns on the tongue can also be formed by Kawasaki disease.

cracked tongue – A tongue with deep grooves can be associated with conditions such as psoriasis, Down syndrome and Sjogren syndrome. Your doctor will order specific tests to identify the underlying condition.

macroglossia – This is when the tongue becomes abnormally large. The underlying factor could be an infection, allergy, or hypothyroidism.

hairy tongue – These are not actually hairs growing in the mouth, but a brown or black coating on the tongue. The hair-like appearance comes from papillae that have grown unusually long. This condition is usually harmless and can be avoided with good dental hygiene.

Sore and bumpy – This condition can be due to factors such as smoking and trauma. For example, accidentally biting your tongue or scalding yourself while eating hot food. Another common reason is canker sores, which are usually referred to as mouth ulcers. However, these usually heal on their own.

Cancer – Most tongue-related problems such as bumps, spots, and different colors are usually benign. They either go away on their own or can be treated with appropriate medication. However, if there are sores and bumps that don’t heal even after two weeks, it would be time to see a doctor. Such symptoms have been linked to cancer.


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