Our tongue is an important organ that helps us to communicate and allows us to taste, swallow and chew food. Keeping the tongue healthy is very important in maintaining good oral hygiene. There are a number of common conditions associated with the tongue.

Problems with the tongue include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • changes in colour and texture
  • taste problems
  • difficulties in movement

Common tongue conditions

The above symptoms can be the result of a number of different conditions. These include:

  • Mouth ulcers: small, painful ulcers can appear on the tongue or inside the mouth. This is a relatively common condition, the cause of which is unknown. They should disappear within a few days.
  • Geographic tongue: this harmless condition affects the surface of your tongue. A healthy tongue is usually covered with tiny, pinkish bumps called papillae. A person suffering from geographic tongue will find that some of the papillae go missing and appear as smooth, red ‘islands’ often with slightly raised borders. If your symptoms do not disappear within 10 days, see your dentist or doctor.
  • Black, hairy tongue: this is a temporary, harmless condition that gives your tongue a dark and furry appearance. This is usually caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on papillae or when the papillae trap an area stained by tobacco, food or other substances. The condition usually resolves itself without the need for medical intervention. Poor oral hygiene can sometimes be the cause of this condition. See you dentist for guidance.
  • Leukoplakia: if you have leukoplakia, you will notice thick, white patches forming on your gums, the insides of your cheeks and sometimes on your tongue. The cause of the condition is not entirely certain but tobacco is believed to be a contributor. Leukoplakia isn’t usually dangerous, but it can sometimes be linked to a more serious condition. See your dentist if the white patches do not heal within two weeks.
  • Oral thrush: the main symptom of thrush is a white coating that grows over the surface of the mouth and tongue. Thrush can occur in anyone, but most commonly appears in those taking steroids, people with suppressed immune systems, the very young and the elderly.
  • Burning tongue syndrome: a relatively common condition, this syndrome makes the tongue feel burned or scalded and is quite unpleasant. It can be caused by a minor nerve problem.

If you are concerned by any of these conditions, make an appointment to see your dentist.