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Your tongue’s 10 unusual warning signs that you should never ignore



It’s vital to keep an eye on your tongue, as it can provide a whole host of information about your health

The underside of the tongue is a common area for ulcers to develop

It’s a part of the body in almost constant use. And your tongue plays a vital role in several crucial bodily functions.

But despite that it’s often overlooked when it comes to our overall health. And that’s a shame because the tongue can provide a whole host of important information about our well-being.

Keeping an eye on its shape, texture and overall feel can help you be aware of certain things going on in your body that need looking after. If you have unknowingly contracted a particular disease or illness, the tongue can sometimes display early warning signs and symptoms, which should not be ignored.


Some red flags can seem quite unusual so it’s vital to know what to look for in case of something serious. Some of the most unusual signs to watch out for include white patches, bumps, soreness and the feeling of burning.


Below is a list of 10 warning signs to be aware of and what they mean, according to the NHS.

White patches

A white tongue can be a sign of a health condition, such as anaemia, scarlet fever, lichen planus, leukoplakia, geographic tongue, mouth ulcers or oral thrush. Creamy white patches could be a sign of the fungal infection thrush, often caused when the health of your mouth is thrown off balance by medication or illness.

Hard, white flat patches that can’t be scraped away could, in serious cases, be a condition called leukoplakia, which may develop into mouth cancer over time.

‘Hair’ or ‘fur’ on your tongue

Hairy tongue is a medical condition where the surface of the tongue takes on a discoloured and furry appearance. Usually white, black or brown in colour, it may seem unpleasant.


However, hairy tongue is a relatively harmless condition that can be easily dealt with in most cases. It is caused by proteins turning natural lumps and bumps on the tongue into longer strands which get food and bacteria caught in them.

Black tongue

Black hairy tongue is the name given to the appearance of an abnormal coating of the tongue. It is a non-cancerous condition caused by the papillae (finger-like projections overgrowing on the surface of the tongue).

The cause is unknown although there are some contributing factors, including: Poor oral hygiene, smoking, alcohol, stains from food and drink and use of chlorhexidine mouthwash (e.g. Corsodyl) may cause staining of the papillae.



Often there are no symptoms other than the unpleasant appearance or anxiety over its cause. Some patients complain of gagging, nausea, altered taste or halitosis.

Good oral hygiene is essential as is stopping smoking. Other recognised treatments include brushing with a soft toothbrush and eating fresh pineapple (not tinned or pasteurized).

If you have taken an antacid it could well have an ingredient called bismuth in it. This can stain the tongue when it mixes with saliva. It is thought to be harmless and should go away once you’ve stopped taking the medicine.

Bright red tongue

A bright red tongue could be an indicator of Kawasaki disease, a serious, rare disease usually found in children that causes the inflation of blood vessels. It can also be a symptom of scarlet fever – a contagious infection that mostly affects young children but can be easily treated with antibiotics.


If you find your tongue is smooth and red, alongside pain in your mouth, it could be a sign of a vitamin B3 deficiency.

Your tongue can provide a whole host of information about your health

Burning feeling

Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for ongoing or recurring burning in the mouth without an obvious cause. You may feel this burning on your tongue, gums, lips, inside of your cheeks, roof of your mouth or large areas of your whole mouth.

If it feels like you’ve burned your tongue on a hot drink or you have a recurring metallic taste, this could be a sign of nerve issues. Burning mouth syndrome usually comes on suddenly, but it can develop slowly over time.

Often the specific cause can’t be found. Other conditions like acid reflux and diabetes can cause this feeling too.

Smooth tongue

A lack of nutrients in the body can lead to your tongue feeling smooth, with little to no bumps on it. It may also look as if your mouth has a glossy texture to it.


Usually this is down to a lack of iron, folic acid and B vitamins. Infections, coeliac disease and some medications can also cause this. However, if the patches are smooth but present alongside bumpy patches, it could be a benign condition called geographic tongue.

Sore bumps under your tongue

The underside of the front of your tongue is a common area for mouth ulcers to develop – but they can appear anywhere in the mouth. These tend to be small, red and often painful, they normally go away on their own within a week or two.

See a GP or dentist if you have a mouth ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks.


Macroglossia is a rare condition that typically affects more children than adults. It is when the tongue is too big for the mouth.


Often it can be identified by tooth imprints on the sides of the tongue. Causes can be infection, allergies or hypothyroidism which is a condition associated with an underactive thyroid.

Fissured tongue

The term fissured tongue describes the finding of multiple small furrows or grooves on the dorsal (top) surface of the tongue. These fissures can be shallow or deep, single or multiple. Often there is a prominent fissure in the centre of the tongue.

Deep grooves can form as you age but they can also be a sign of Sjögren’s syndrome or psoriasis. They are completely harmless, but if you have the condition make sure you gently brush the grooves to clear them of bacteria and food.

Signs of mouth cancer

Sores that don’t heal, tongue pain and lumps, as well as trouble swallowing or chewing can all be signs of cancer. It is important to note that there are milder reasons for these symptoms and you should always speak to your doctor if these persist.

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