If you have kids, you may want to share this fascinating list of animal-tongue facts:

The human tongue by comparison is pretty boring, quietly moving around in our mouths for our entire lives. Yet—unless we accidentally bite it—we probably never think about it.

Everyone hears a lot about oral health, healthy teeth and gums, good oral hygiene, brushing, flossing, and professional teeth cleaning, but hardly a mention of our tongue. It’s sad. 

Well, the human tongue may not be two feet long and may not weigh 2.7 tons, but it does a lot of work for us; therefore, this blog is going to discuss the value of this long-neglected organ, recognizing the many roles it plays in our lives, giving it the respect it deserves, and discussing its ability to warn us of health issues about which we would not otherwise be aware.

Speaking

We would have a difficult time speaking without our tongue. You’ve probably never paid attention, so take a few minutes the next time you’re speaking, and analyze the number of times your tongue moves against the roof of your mouth or the back of your teeth when you speak. 

Those who study language define high vowels—such as the i in “machine” and u in “rule”—and low vowels—such as a in “father” or “had”—based on the high or low position of the tongue when pronouncing those sounds. 

In 2015, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that infants use the movements of their tongue and lips to understand speech long before they try to talk. 

Eating

The tongue serves to move food around inside the mouth from one side to the other. The tongue also pushes food to the rear of the mouth, in the back of the teeth, so it is ready to be swallowed. 

Additionally, you can thank your tongue for the foods you love. The taste buds on the tongue provide us with an almost infinite variety of tastes, all based on receptors on the tongue that  are able to recognize sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. In the past 15 years, the idea that the tongue had separate areas for each of those four tastes has been disproven, and it’s been shown that receptors for all four tastes are distributed evenly throughout the surface of the tongue. 

An Indicator of Health

Your dentist can discover a great deal, not just about your oral health, but also about your general health just by examining your tongue. Dentists can diagnose several conditions based solely on the color of the tongue. For example, one’s tongue may have a:

  • White Coating or White Spots

White patches or spots are usually a sign of either oral thrush or leukoplakia. Oral thrush is often seen in infants, the elderly and those who have been taking antibiotics. Caused when the Candida fungus, which is a normal organism in the mouth overgrows due to a suppressed immune system. Oral thrush can be treated with antifungal medications. Leukoplakia is similar to oral thrush in appearance but is caused by smoking or chewing tobacco. Most often harmless, leukoplakia will usually go away by itself if the source of irritation is removed; however, having leukoplakia over many years could possibly lead to oral cancer.  

  • Black or Hairy Appearance

Bacteria or yeast in the mouth can build up on the papillae, tiny, rounded, naturally occurring projections on the surface of the tongue. If the papillae are not shed as they normally would be, they can grow and lengthen up to 15 times their normal length, giving the appearance of a black or hairy tongue. Foods, beverages, or bacteria can change the papillae’s normal pink color to black. A black or hairy tongue can come from poor oral hygiene, smoking, using antibiotics, taking medications containing bismuth, not producing enough saliva or using mouthwash containing peroxide, witch hazel, or menthol. 

  • Red Color

Pink is the normal tongue color, so when pink turns to red, there’s something amiss. The cause could be as simple as a deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B-12; however, a strawberry- or raspberry-colored tongue could also be a sign of Kawasaki disease or scarlet fever

Other issues, such as macroglossia—a tongue that has increased noticeably in size—or a tongue with deep grooves, bumps, soreness or a burning feeling, could all be symptoms of larger problems. 

If you suspect any tongue abnormalities, or if it’s just time for your six-month checkup, stop little problems from becoming big ones by calling the office of Dr. Brei. 

There are many ways to get in touch with the office of Dr. Brei. You can email them at appointments@drbrei.com, call them at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. Contact Tucson’s Cosmetic and Family Dentist, Dr. Brei, DDS today for a clean bill of oral health. It’s right on the tip of your tongue!