During an oral exam, you may notice your dentist checking your tongue. This is an important part of your routine check-up, as the tongue can provide your dentist with a better understanding of both your oral health and overall health. In this blog post we’ll look at why checking your tongue is so important when it comes to dental health.
Why is checking the tongue important?
Many of us take our tongues for granted. Whilst we all love to enjoy our favourite foods and beverages, it is easy to forget that the tongue is an important body part that can offer clues as to the state of our oral and general health. Preventative dentistry is a practice designed to help all patients maintain optimal oral health, and a tongue exam aims to identify any issues such as infections, nutritional deficiencies and abnormal growths which may be present.
When performing a tongue examination, dentists are looking for the following signs and symptoms which may be indicators of a potential problem:
White Spots or Coating
A healthy tongue should be pink in appearance. Any discolouration, white spots or coating may indicate potential illness such as oral thrush, canker sores or leucoplakia. It is also possible that a white coating has formed due to the accumulation of bacteria. It is important to brush your tongue during your daily oral hygiene routine, as this will assist in removing the white coating and make it easier to identify any potential issues. If the coating comes off with ease, then there is no need to worry.
Oral cancer can occur on the surface of the tongue, and the first signs usually present in the form of visible sores. Heavy alcohol and tobacco use both increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
Abnormal Red Colour
If your tongue has a distinctly red appearance rather than pink, it is possible you may be suffering from vitamin deficiency – particularly iron, folate and B12. In this case you may wish to start taking a vitamin supplement or incorporate more foods containing these vitamins in your diet. A red tongue could also be due to Kawasaki disease, which causes inflammation in the bodies blood vessels.
Red Bumps, Sores or Cuts
Canker sores are common, and they can occur for a variety of reasons including reactions to certain foods, injury, vitamin deficiency, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, immune disorders and potentially cancer. It is important to monitor abnormal bumps, and in many cases they will clear up on their own in around 1-2 weeks. If the bumps are of concern, your dentist will advise accordingly.
Black hairy tongue can occur due to an overgrowth of dead skin cells or the build up of bacteria in the mouth. Smoking and tobacco use, regular use of antibiotics, specific medications and poor hygiene practices can also cause this condition. This is a benign condition which will usually clear up within a few weeks, provided you follow a thorough oral hygiene routine and use a tongue scraper daily.
As you can see, there are many good reasons why dentists check your tongue during an oral exam.