Causes Of Tongue Discoloration: How To Treat A Discolored Tongue?

The health of an individual is often analyzed by the appearance of tongue. A healthy individual has pink, soft, and moist tongue with a thin film of saliva. On its surface there are millions of tiny hairs like structures called papillae with nerve endings that carry different types of sensation to brain. A discolored tongue needs special attention as it may suggest a serious health disorder.

A thin film of saliva usually is not visible unless it becomes thick and coats the tongue. Occasional coating of white or yellow on the back of tongue is considered normal resulting from food deposits and the color of food.

However, if there is change in texture, color and coating persistently it may be an indication of chronic illness. Let us know the health conditions that can discolor the tongue.

What Causes Discoloration Of Tongue?

Tongue discoloration can occur in various diseases. In fact in certain cases, an intelligent clinician diagnoses the disease only by observing the tongue. Discoloration of tongue hints many conditions such as anemia, glossitis, leukoplakia, heart and lung problem etc.

  • Poor oral hygiene is one of the common problems that may cause discolored tongue. If you do not clean and brush your tongue daily, a thick white or yellowish coating accumulates on tongue surface.
    Bacteria present in mouth reacts with the stuck food particles in the papillae leading to a thick white coating.
  • Pale tongue is a sign of anemia. It can be due to iron deficiency anemia or vitamin B12 deficiency. The surface of tongue appears shiny and smooth.
  • Oral thrush can cause thick curd like surface on tongue. Oral thrush is common in infants and children. It is caused by yeast infection in the mouth. Thrush develops in children and elderly individuals because of their low immune level. Use of antibiotics for long duration can alter the healthy bacterial environment in mouth leading to yeast infection in mouth.
  • Leukoplakia is a condition where white or grey patches appear on tongue. It is generally caused by excessive use of tobacco chewing. Often considered a precursor stage of oral cancer, if you find such discoloration on tongue and cheek, you should consult your doctor at the earliest.
  • If your tongue turns suddenly blue, it indicates lack of oxygen supply to lungs and heart. The condition is called cyanosis. After a while when enough oxygen supply is restored, the tongue becomes normal. Cyanosis is an indication of lung and heart disease.
  • In typhoid the tongue is coated white or yellow leaving the tip of tongue fiery red. Almost all patients suffering from typhoid may have a fiery red tipped tongue.
  • The tongue can become black and hairy due to several reasons. It occurs when the papillae on tongue do not shed as they normally do. The growth of long papillae on tongue appears black and hairy. This type of tongue discoloration is often observed if you breathe by mouth, poor oral hygiene, use of antibiotics and other medications, tobacco use etc.
  • Glossitis is a condition where the tongue becomes smooth, shiny, red and inflamed. It is sore and tender. Patient finds eating and drinking painful. Several triggers can cause glossitis such as exposure to chemicals present in food, allergies, injury on tongue, eating food that is too hot or spicy etc. Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency can also cause glossitis.

How To Get Rid Of Discoloration On Your Tongue?

Tongue discoloration is a sign of many health problems. After ruling out some of the external factors such as smoking, tobacco chewing, poor oral hygiene etc as the cause of discoloration and coating of tongue, the problem needs to be investigated.

Routine blood tests and urine analysis are the primary tests that may reveal iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency. More modern tests such as gastric endoscopy, X-ray or lungs, sonogram of abdomen, and echocardiography may be necessary to rule out gastric, heart and lung problems.

Sometimes tongue scrapping may be necessary to rule out fungal and bacterial infection or a biopsy to rule out oral cancer. Since tongue discoloration results from underlying health problem, it is necessary to address the health disorder.

  • Clean your tongue daily with a tongue scraper to slough off dead cells which gives an altered color to the tongue.
  • Eat nutritious diet consisting vitamins and minerals.
  • Drink enough water throughout the day to keep the tongue moist and hydrated.
  • Avoid smoking and chewing tobacco, aerated drinks, excessive coffee and tea.
  • Avoid foods consisting too much of spices or too hot.
  • Salt water mouth wash is effective in reducing bacterial growth if it is one of the reasons for discoloration.
  • Take antibiotics only on recommendation of a physician.