Tongue Problems (cont.)
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Tongue basics
- What are common tongue problems?
- What causes tongue problems?
- What are the treatments for tongue problems?
- White tongue
- Red tongue
- Black tongue
- Increased size/swelling
- Abnormalities of the tongue surface
- Tongue movement
- What are common tongue problems in infants and children?
- What are common tongue problems in pregnancy?
- How are tongue problems diagnosed?
- What is the prognosis for tongue problems?
- Can tongue problems be prevented?
- Find a local Doctor in your town
There are obvious causes of red color change such as something you ate (strawberries or red-colored foods). Some acidic foods can cause temporary redness and discomfort. However, a red tongue can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Some red color changes on the tongue (“strawberry tongue”) could be related to vitamin deficiency, Kawasaki disease, or a strep infection (scarlet fever).
Erythroplakia is a red patch or lesion that cannot be rubbed off on the tongue (except for the color, it is similar to leukoplakia). A lesion with a combined white and red appearance is called erythroleukoplakia. These lesions are all considered to have premalignant potential. Erythroplakia and erythroleukoplakia have an increased risk of premalignancy compared to leukoplakia. In addition to appearance, cause for concern can be if the lesion or sore does not go away or grows in size. A biopsy is recommended with an oral surgeon or an ENT specialist to rule out oral cancer.
A black tongue is usually a harmless condition that can be caused by medications, smoking, poor oral hygiene, soft diet, or dry mouth. A black tongue is usually associated with elongated tongue papillae and thus, it is called “black hairy tongue” (lingua villosa nigra). The cause is thought to be a change in the normal bacteria in the mouth after antibiotic treatment or use of products that contain bismuth such as Pepto-Bismol. (“Hairy tongue” by itself can also be white or tan.) Treatment may involve improving one's diet, smoking cessation, and improved oral hygiene (including gently brushing or scraping the tongue).
Next: Increased size/swelling
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