What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?

A healthy tongue is pink in color with the papillae covering the surface of the tongue. The tongue is a muscular organ responsible for the taste sensation and allows us to eat, swallow, speak, etc.

If you are suffering from a painful tongue or altered tongue color, then it is the point of concern. Visit the doctor in such condition.


The tongue is the place where the maximum amount of bacteria in oral cavity harbors causing the inflammation if not cleaned daily. Illness of the tongue shown by the change in color or texture.

These alterations of tongue seen in some diseases such as scarlet fever, oral thrush, leukoplakia, etc. Also, the poor oral hygiene and improper cleaning of the tongue increase inflammatory changes in the tongue, alternating its color.

If Illness of the tongue is left untreated, then it can lead to bad breath. Few essential things, such as daily brushing and flossing, consumption of plenty of fluids, avoidance for smoking, etc., can help you to maintain the health of tongue and its normal color.

Let us dive deeper to know more about the tongue color changes.

What causes tongue discoloration?

Tongue color directly reflects the health of the tongue. Alteration in tongue color might be associated with the underlined diseases. Following are the tongue colors seen in various conditions –

1. Red tongue

The red tongue is mainly the sign of inflammation and seen in few conditions such as

  • Deficiency of vitamin B12.
  • Deficiency of folic acid.
  • Geographic tongue in which the red patches lined with the white border seen all over the dorsum of the tongue. (1)
  • Scarlet fever shows strawberry red tongue.
  • Kawasaki syndrome.

2. Black tongue

Black tongue is seen in people who don’t practice good oral hygiene. The papillae on the tongue grow throughout the life of the individual.

In some people, the papillae have become longer than usual and help to harbor bacteria. Bacteria on the tongue gives the tongue a black color. (2)

Also, bismuth preparation taken in case of stomach upset produces black color on the tongue.

3. Yellow tongue

The yellow tongue is mostly due to the accumulation of bacteria and dead cells on the tongue surface which mostly occurs in poor oral hygiene.

Some other condition such as jaundice, tobacco chewing,  dry mouth also changes the tongue colour to yellow.

4. White tongue

The white color of the tongue caused by following conditions –

  • Poor brushing and flossing.
  • Mouth breathing.
  • Alcohol addiction.
  • Habit such as smoking, alcoholism, etc.
  • Leukoplakia is the oral illness which shows white patches on the dorsum of the tongue. If the lesion of leukoplakia is large, then it can be surgically removed. Regular visits are needed to monitor the lesion of leukoplakia.
  • Oral lichen planus is the immunity disorder which shows white striated patches on the tongue. In severe lichen planus, dentist prescribes the steroids or mouth rinse made with steroid pills.
  • Oral thrush is the candidal infection which shows a white coating on the tongue. It is best treated with antifungal medicine. Also, Application of gel or liquid on the infectious area will give you a soothing effect.
  • Syphilis shows syphilitic leukoplakia which develops white patches on the tongue. Penicillin antibiotics are used to cover the infection in syphilis.
  • Mouth or tongue cancer alters tongue color to white.
  • Anemia also causes pale tongue.

When to see a doctor?

If you see the change in color of your tongue, do not take is lightly and visit a doctor. See your doctor if you see the change in color of your tongue along with some serious symptoms such as –

  • Painful tongue.
  • Burning sensation in the tongue.
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing or talking due to the increase in the size of the tongue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Skin rashes or patches on the skin.

What can you do to keep your tongue healthy?

You cannot prevent the tongue changes occurring due to systemic illness, but you can avoid the oral infections that affect tongue.

Some preventive measures can help to minimize the chances of tongue related issues. You can follow the following tips to get a healthy tongue –

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for adequate time and with proper brushing technique.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to prevent infection due to caries.
  • Use mouthrinse daily.
  • Floss your teeth daily.
  • Clean your tongue with a tongue cleaner or tongue scraper. Tongue scraper scrapes out the bacteria and food debris on the tongue. (3)
  • Drink ample amount of water as dehydration is one of the contributing factor causing a change in tongue color.
  • Stop smoking or tobacco chewing as these are the prime causes of leukoplakia.
  • Avoid sugary juice and acidic drinks as they increase the chance of decay and provide a suitable environment for bacterial growth.
  • Visit the dentist for regular visits and professional cleaning.
  • If you have a tongue piercing, then do not forget to clean the area after every meal. (4)
  • Improve your nutritional aids and have diet reach with vitamin, folic acid, etc.
  • Watch your tongue daily after cleaning. If you see the color or texture change, then see your dentist immediately.
  • Drink aloe vera juice as it is antibacterial, antifungal.

Final words

Change in color or texture of the tongue is indicative of an underlined disorder or poor oral hygiene. You need to have a careful watch on your daily practice of oral health.


We cannot do much to prevent the symptomatic change of tongue color due to systemic illness, but we can prevent the tongue infection induced by oral infections.

Few primary cares such as maintenance of good oral hygiene along with tongue cleaning, having nutritional diet, regular visits to the dentist, etc. can get you the healthy oral life.


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