The tongue has been used to diagnose and treat diseases in ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It has been said that even Western doctors performed an examination of the tongue up until the early 1900s. Changes in your tongue, depending on which area it arises, can reveal possibilities about the health of the rest of your body. Bumps, spots, and white patches in your mouth can certainly be harmless oftentimes. But other times, they are able to give strong clues regarding what’s actually going on with your overall health. Based on ancient Chinese medical text, the tongue is connected indirectly or directly to all of your internal organs, it is easily affected by the performance of your other organs. The papillae on your tongue (your taste buds) are actually highly sensitive and can easily change as a response to changing internal conditions.
A healthy tongue should be medium sized and pink, with perhaps a light layer of white coating on the top. It should be able to move around freely and comfortably in your mouth and be fully covered in papillae, or taste buds. Any changes in your tongue’s normal appearance, or sudden pain, should raise some concern. If your tongue has a white coating over it, this generally isn’t a cause for concern and is usually harmless. Usually, white tongue is related to oral hygiene.
Symptoms to be aware of:
- Thick white coating — this indicates an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth which could be caused by slight dehydration and could also be related to poor mouth hygiene or an unbalanced digestive tract.
- Discolored Coating — Oftentimes tongue scrapers can remove discolored or excess coating, but if you find your tongue is an abnormal color and it isn’t due to something you ate, seek advice from your doctor immediately.
- Red or “strawberry” tongue — this can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, such as folic acid and is a symptom of scarlet fever.
- Bumps — Your tongue is not meant to be smooth, a bumpy tongue can be quite normal. But normal bumps on the tongue are not meant to be painful. If you notice any new or painful bumps forming on your tongue this should raise some concern.
- Pale and smooth tongue — this can indicate an iron or B12 deficiency
- Painful tongue or Sores that won’t heal — this may be an early sign of tongue cancer. Also certain medical conditions such as diabetes and anemia, can have a sore tongue as a symptom.
Try incorporating a personal examination of your tongue in the mirror to your regular self-care routine. You should become familiar with its usual look, feel and texture in order to indicate when it may look or feel abnormal, or like something is off. If you are able to notice changes in your tongue it could give you strong clues about what's going on inside your own body. Below is a map based off of the teachings in Chinese Medicine, it shows which areas on the tongue correspond to each of the internal organs.