Your Dentist May Look at Your Tongue – What It Can Tell Them About Your Oral and Overall Health

November 3, 2022

When you schedule regular cleaning and checkup with Dr. Dhiraj Sharma, you expect him to focus on your teeth and gums. While that will be his focus, he will also likely look at your tongue. This is a common part of dental checkups, as your tongue can provide much insight into your overall health.

If You Have White Spots, Coating, or Patches

Leukoplakia is when there are thickened white patches on your tongue. They can also appear inside your cheeks or on the bottom of your mouth. Leukoplakia can be benign. However, it can also be an early indicator of cancer. As such, you always want a trained dentist to look at these white patches.

If there’s a white coating or white spots on the tongue, this may indicate you have oral thrush. That is a yeast infection within the mouth. People who take antibiotics, use inhaled steroids or have diabetes have a higher risk of oral thrush.

If Your Tongue Has Indentations or Ridges

Sometimes, Dr. Sharma may notice scalloped edges on your tongue. This is usually the result of your teeth pressing into your tongue at night. It is also very normal to have a long crack in the middle of your tongue.

If Your Tongue Has Black or “Hairy” Spots

Depending on the bacteria on your tongue, it can appear almost hair-like and black. The “hairs” can also be proteins that trap bacteria and food. This change to the papillae (fleshy bumps on your tongue) can indicate poor oral hygiene, a yeast infection, or diabetes. Or it can be a side effect of cancer treatment. If the “hairs” are white, they may be oral hairy leukoplakia.

If Your Tongue Has Stripes or Webbing

If you or your dentist notice stripes or webbing on your tongue, expect to look for other symptoms. When this webbing also comes with pain, burning feelings, or open sores, it may be oral lichen planus. With lichen planus, your immune system attacks your mouth’s tissues. This inflammatory condition can frequently heal on its own but should be treated. That is because it can also come with a risk of mouth cancer.

If Your Tongue Is Bright Red

Although rare, a bright, strawberry-red tongue may indicate Kawasaki disease. This is most common in children, and it is rare but serious. It inflames blood vessels around the body. Or a bright red tongue may indicate scarlet fever. It can also mean a vitamin B3 deficiency, in which case you will likely also have mouth pain, and the tongue will be smooth.

If Your Tongue Is Smooth

A smooth tongue can indicate more than just a vitamin B3 deficiency. It can also reveal a deficiency of other B vitamins, iron, or folic acid. Or it may indicate celiac disease or infections. It can also be a medication side effect.


Your tongue can provide insights into your oral health as well as your overall health. If you notice anything unusual with your tongue, bring it up at your next dental checkup. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact our family dentist in River West Chicago today!


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