What does your tongue say about your health?

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by Dr. Angela DeRosa, DeRosa Medical / Special to azfamily.com

GMAZ interview by Heidi Goitia

Posted on June 17, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 29 at 9:29 PM

PHOENIX -- Go to the mirror and stick your tongue out. What you see can tell a lot about your health, which is why doctors always ask you to stick out your tongue during a physical exam. A healthy tongue is pink and moist, with a thin white surface coating. Seeing another color? Here’s what you need to know.

White tongue: You may have a fungal or candida (yeast) infection. These types of inflammations occur when your immune system is compromised. White tongue can signal simple dehydration or dry mouth, or more serious health concerns like HIV, high blood sugar (diabetes), excessive smoking, alcohol abuse, steroid use, etc.

Swollen tongue: Usually due to an allergic reaction, but it can also be a sign of hypothyroidism, especially if your tongue is also pale. If your tongue is swollen and beefy red, it’s a signal of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Red tongue: Assuming you haven’t just eaten a red popsicle or candy, red tongue can be a sign of strep infection, celiac disease or pernicious anemia, which is linked to vitamin deficiencies. If your tongue is red and sore, it could be a vitamin B, niacin or folic acid deficiency. Time to see the doctor.

Hairy (black) tongue: This rather alarming symptom signals poor oral hygiene, overuse of antibiotics, or other everyday items like mouthwashes, coffee, and tobacco. More serious causes can indicate HIV, or intravenous drug abuse.

Yellow tongue: Usually a bacterial overgrowth indicating a need for better oral hygiene. Without In rare instances, yellow discoloration can indicate liver or gallbladder problems, or the beginning of black, hairy tongue.

Bottom line? Oral health is very important, as gingivitis and periodontal disease have also been linked as risk factors for heart disease. If you see a change in your oral health, see your dentist or doctor.


Dr. Angela DeRosa is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Internal Medicine and Women's Health. DeRosa Medical has locations in Scottsdale, Sedona and Chandler. For more information, call 480-619-4097 or visit DeRosaMedical.com.

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