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Think of Your Tongue as a Carpet

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If you ever want to gross someone out, do an internet search for “Bacteria on Tongue”. Do another for “Geographic Tongue”, simply the name for a tongue with deeper crevices and some bumps. This isn’t harmful. Like carpeting, stuff sticks on the surface of your tongue.

Since humans don’t compare tongues very often after the age of seven, most of my patients don’t think anything about the appearance of their tongue. Tongues can take on coatings from food recently eaten, so it is best to brush your tongue, from back to front, daily. It has long been believed that this reduces the risk of bad breath. At minimum, it reduces the amount of cavity causing bacteria!

Smokers often have a brown coating on their tongue, but the colors can range from white to yellow to orange. Our office pays particular attention to their tongues and the surrounding tissues, since the incidence of oral cancer is higher in users of all types of tobacco.

When a tongue coating is white, it could be “Leukoplakia” or “Lichen Planus”. The former is painless and most often harmless, though there is some research demonstrating that the area could turn cancerous many years later. Lichen planus is related to the long-term immune system but the exact cause in unknown. White patches might form and exist painlessly for years, or they could turn red and be painful until treated with mouthwash and steroids. The condition that concerns me most is Thrush, a yeast infection that is caused by a fungus. It looks white but it is bright red underneath, if disturbed. Folks with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more prone to this, as are denture wearers and the very young or old. If someone has deficiencies of iron or B-vitamins, or takes prolonged doses of antibiotics, they are also at greater risk of thrush.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can manifest in the mouth as a painless sore, ten days to 3 months after exposure to a carrier. If left untreated, it can lead to white patches on the tongue. Your physician will treat this.

So, your mom was right. Don’t stick out your tongue at anybody…but it wouldn’t hurt if you stick your tongue out at yourself, in front of a mirror, from time to time.

Contact Winterset Dental today to find out which treatment is right for you.

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