You might look to our weight, energy levels and skin to tell you how healthy your body is at any given time, but do you ever check your tongue? It turns out that a white coating, bad breath, lumps, cracks or soreness in your tongue could reveal a lot about the state of your immune system, gut health and much more. Read on to discover what yours is trying to tell you!

What is tongue reading?

Tongue reading is an ancient practice which has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and claims you can diagnose health problems by examining your tongue. It’s a bit like reflexology, but using the tongue instead of the feet.

How does tongue reading work?

There are four elements to tongue reading: colour, texture, shape and coating. As in reflexology, different parts of your tongue correspond to different body parts. It’s believed to be particularly good for diagnosing gut health problems, as the tongue is thought to act as a mirror to your digestive health problems.

What does a healthy tongue look like?

If you stick out your tongue, look in the mirror and see a pink tongue, covered in small nodules (known as papillae) and without any pain, then congratulations – it’s healthy!

What do white spots or coating on my tongue mean?

A white tongue or white spots could mean several things. If they appear and disappear within a fortnight or so then it’s just normal discolouration. Any longer, and it could mean one of these conditions. For any of these, speak to your dentist or GP. According to ancient tongue reading, a thick white coating implies poor circulation or poor gut health.

Symptoms of oral thrush (aka a yeast infection)

If you have white patches on your tongue which remain for longer than a fortnight and appear lumpy, you may have contracted a yeast infection. These are particularly common if you have a weakened immune system, diabetes or tale steroids for asthma or lung disease.

Symptoms of Leukoplakia

If your tongue becomes irritated and white patches appear in your mouth and on your tongue, it may be leukoplakia – a condition when cells grow too much. It’s common for smokers.

Why is my tongue looking red?

Unnaturally redness on your tongue can also mean different conditions, including a vitamin deficiency or a condition known as geographic tongue. According to tongue reading, it indicates heat in the body, including a hormonal imbalance or a fever,

Do I have a vitamin deficiency?

If you’re lacking in Vitamin B-12 or folic acid, your tongue may start to look red. Top up your folic acid by eating broccoli, peas, chickpeas, spinach or fortified cereals. Vitamin B-12 can be found in meat, dairy and fortified cereals. Low levels of zinc can cause a slight burning feeling.

Symptoms of geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition that is characterised by patchy lesions that change position on a daily basis. It can feel uncomfortable but is usually not something to worry about.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is an infection that can cause your tongue to become red and bumpy. If you have a high fever you’ll need to visit your doctor for antibiotics.

Why is my tongue puffy?

A puffy tongue or teeth marks along the edge of your tongue could indicate that you’re dehydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg.

Why is my tongue bumpy?

A bumpy texture on your tongue may indicate a food allergy or intolerance, or perhaps result from an infection.

Symptoms of a canker sore or mouth ulcer

Canker sores, also known as ulcers – which have a red, round border and a yellow or white centre – often arise on the underside of the tongue as well as around the mouth. They aren’t contagious but they can be very sore. Mouth ulcers can be caused by stress, smoking, biting your tongue or irritation from particular foods, and generally heal after a week or so. Certain medications including beta-blockers are also thought to cause canker sores, as can mouth washes if you find them irritating. Consult your doctor if they keep recurring, last more than a fortnight or come with a high fever.

Why is my tongue hairy or black?

A hairy tongue might look alarming, but it shouldn’t cause you to panic! It means that your oral hygiene could use an improvement though, as it’s a growth of bacteria which appear hair-like and dark. It can also happen if you have diabetes, are having chemotherapy or taking antibiotics. Make sure to take good care of your teeth and gums, and consider using a plastic tongue scraper.

A lump or sore on the tongue

This could be harmless, but lumps that don’t disappear after two weeks may be a sign of oral cancer so it’s worth getting it checked as soon as possible.

Painful tongue

While most people have experienced pain after biting or burning their tongue, any pain that you can’t account for may indicate a problem. Any pain, irritation, loss of feeling or burning on your tongue should be examined by your doctor as soon as possible.

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