My Tongue Looks Funny! What You Need to Know.

November 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Carrington Dental News & Updates

Our tongues are an essential part of our oral apparatus. The tongue enables us to enjoy our food, being the site of little bumps also known as papillae, which contain our taste buds. In addition, the tongue is what enables us to speak and swallow, and helps with keeping the mouth lubricated.

The tongue can also be an important indicator of a person’s general health and we pay attention to it here at our office. There are some conditions of the tongue that are harmful, however there are a few that can make it look “funny” and cause people to needlessly worry. We see these conditions in our office from time to time and want you to know about them.

Some people have patterns on their tongues. They have smooth, shiny patches intermixed with bumpy red sections. Even more surprising, these patches can move! Sometimes they are in one part of the tongue, other times in another part. The technical name for this condition is Benign Migratory Glossitis. The common term is Geographic Tongue. Geographic Tongue is a harmless (benign) condition that causes the atrophy or reduction in size of the filiform papillae, the little bumps on the tongue that contain the taste buds. It is not related to any type of infection or cancer. The condition is usually painless, but sometimes can cause discomfort or increased sensitivity to certain substances or foods. For example, some people report a soreness or burning sensation that can worsen with spicy or acidic foods. It is not known why the tongue loses papillae on some parts of the tongue, but the condition does tend to run in families, so heredity is likely involved. Geographic tongue can occur in persons of all ages, and has been reported to only affect about 2% of the population. However, recent research supports a much larger, up to 25%, rate. Women also appear to be affected more than men. Usually geographic tongue goes through stages of appearance and then remission without any treatment. If a person is experiencing some pain, over-the-counter remedies such as ibuprophen, and perhaps a topical anesthetic mouthrinse can help. If you notice that your tongue is sore after eating certain foods, or using a certain toothpaste, simply avoid these. The good news is Geographic Tongue may look funny, but it is not harmful.

Fissured Tongue

Fissured tongue is another tongue condition that may appear worrisome. As the name implies, the tongue appears to have deep lines or fissures on the top surface and may look rough or “bumpy”. This is a normal, thought to be hereditary, condition that is also not harmful.

Black, Hairy Tongue
Black, Hairy Tongue is a temporary, harmless condition that gives the tongue a dark furry appearance, resembling hair growing on the center and back portions of the tongue. It is usually the result of an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. Again, the condition may look alarming, but it is not associated with serious infection or cancer. It is however, associated with bacteria, so controlling oral bacteria is important. The tongue often looks black, but can also appear to be deep yellow or brown and rough or furry. Some persons report that they have an altered taste or metallic taste in the mouth and sometimes, bad breath. Black, Hairy Tongue is believed to be caused from the filiform papillae (the bumps that contain your taste buds) growing longer, making them collectors of bacteria. What causes the overgrowth in a particular person may not ever be determined, however it has been associated with changes in normal bacteria or yeast content of the mouth following a course of antibiotics, poor oral hygiene, medications containing bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol) and regular use of peroxide or menthol mouthwashes. It is also related to heavy tobacco use.

Black Hairy Tongue usually doesn’t require medical treatment, but eliminating the possible sources of the condition may help, such as discontinuing the use of a bismuth medicine. Also regular and complete home care is vital. Brushing the teeth, brushing the top of the tongue with a toothbrush, using a tongue scraper to remove debris and bacteria, and flossing can take care of the condition.

Call us if you want to know more. We are always happy to help!

  • Brooke Fraser