The tongue is perhaps one of the most underrated organs in the body, and not surprisingly one of the most neglected as well. Caring for the tongue is just as important as daily exercise or proper diet, because it allows this important organ to function at an optimal level. Since many of us are unaware of just how the human tongue functions and how its health affects the overall state of the body, it only makes sense to know as many facts about this organ as possible.
Listed below is essential information about the tongue, including its structure, function, and what potential diseases may develop as a result of poor oral hygiene.
The human tongue is a muscular organ located in the mouth. It is covered by pink moist tissue called Mucosa and have tiny bumps called papillae that give it a rough texture.
This organ plays a vital role in digestion (masticating of food in the mouth, and swallowing) and speech. Without the tongue, it would be impossible to sound out words correctly, let alone enable any form of speech that can be understood.
Most people assume that oral health revolves solely around caring for the teeth. It is, however, just as important to include the tongue because it can also be at a great risk of developing diseases. Some of the most common tongue concerns include the following:
Tongue bad breath
Many people who suffer from bad breath are at a loss because they do in fact brush their teeth daily. However, it is important to understand that poor tongue hygiene can cause bad breath just as much as neglecting to brush your teeth regularly. Bad breath is caused mainly by the accumulation of microorganisms around the tongue. The longer it is neglected, the worse the bad breath will likely get.
There are a number of ailments that affect the tongue and some are serious enough to cause real discomfort or pain. Here are some of the most common afflictions of the tongue, including their causes, symptoms, and potential remedies.
This disease is caused by the same fungus (Candida) that is responsible for vaginal yeast infection. This occurs commonly in people who are taking steroids or steroid-based medication as well as those with suppressed immune systems (i.e. cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or people who recently underwent organ transplantation). While there are over-the-counter medications for this condition, it is better to try natural remedies first such as cold greek yogurt (applied on the tongue and left for about 2-3 minutes).
While this condition is non-symptomatic; it can be a cause of embarrassment. Geographic tongue is characterized by ridges, spots, and discolorations that migrate from one part of the tongue to another (hence the name). This condition usually resolves itself over time.
These are small painful ulcers (lesions) on and/or around the tongue and mouth. This is a rather painful condition especially when the ulcers are aggravated (accidentally poked when brushing or chewing). The cause of this condition is widely unknown although trauma and certain types of food can trigger the appearance of lesions or make them worse. This is a fairly common ailment among adults and is known to occur anywhere from one or twice a year up to more than a dozen occurrences. This disease can be easily remedied by avoiding fruits that irritate the tongue, i.e. citrus fruits and anything acidic, using soft-bristled toothbrush, and avoiding chewing gum.
While this is usually confused with canker sores, Herpes stomatitis or Cold Sores are in fact caused by a virus and is highly contagious. This condition is caused by HSV or Herpes Simplex Virus and is characterized by painful blisters on the tongue (usually contains pus). Any occurrence can last from a week to more than ten days depending on the severity of the infection. Once you notice the symptoms, it is best to get a comprehensive check-up from a physician to determine your overall state of health. While this is not as life threatening as other sexually transmitted diseases, it can be an indication of a more serious underlying medical condition. Keep in mind that HPV (Human Papillomavirus) can recur and spread to other areas of the body such as the genitals.
This condition usually affects people who consume large amounts of alcohol over an extended period of time (i.e. alcoholics, binge drinkers, etc). The most common symptom is the appearance of a growth or ulcer, which grows larger over time. This disease can be life threatening especially if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the esophagus and stomach. If you notice any unusual growth or lesion that does not resolve itself after a few days, it is wise to visit your personal physician for a thorough exam. A biopsy may be recommended to determine whether the growth is cancerous or not.
Burning tongue syndrome
This condition is characterized by the unusual burning sensation around the tongue and/or mouth. It feels as if the surface of your tongue is on fire or scalding (just like when you burn your tongue by drinking hot coffee too fast), and the sensation lasts for about a few minutes up to several hours. While this is relatively harmless, it can be a cause of discomfort. This is believed to be caused by a minor nerve problem and can resolve itself without the aid of any medication.
A healthy tongue is supposed to be bright pink and devoid of any growths and discoloration. Among the most common symptoms of poor oral hygiene is tongue coating, which indicates various underlying conditions. Below are important facts about tongue coating, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Red spots on tongue
The existence of red spots on the tongue can be an indication of infection (HPV, Fungus, etc) depending on whether the spots are raised and/or if they contain pus. This may also occur due to consumption of certain foods (strawberries, etc).
Coated tongue causes
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Poor oral hygiene
- Side effects of certain medications
- Cigarette smoking
- Dryness of the Mouth or Xerostomia (can be a result of dehydration)
- Accumulation of anaerobic bacteria
White tongue symptoms
- Off taste buds (not being able to taste much of the food you eat and beverages you consume)
- Persistent bitter taste on the mouth
- Bad breath or Halitosis (despite regular brushing)
- Local irritation (mostly due to certain foods or drinks)
Yellow tongue coating
Apart from white tongue, yellow tongue may also occur as a result of several triggers. Yellow tongue coating can be caused by the following:
- Build-up of plaque on the tongue
- Excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption (people who smoke clove cigarettes are at a higher risk of developing yellow tongue in addition to burning tongue syndrome).
- Infection (Hepatitis)
- Underlying liver concerns
- Gall bladder problems
Treating and preventing tongue diseases
Prevention is always a better choice when it comes to keeping the tongue healthy. Here are some of the things you can do in order to prevent and/or treat tongue diseases mentioned above.
Daily brushing and tongue scraping
Not a lot of people know what a tongue scraper is, let alone how important it really is for their oral health. A tongue scraper effectively removes bacteria, plaque, and other harmful organisms that build up on the surface. You would be surprised how many harmful elements can accumulate in the mouth in a span of mere 12 hours. If you do not already have a scraper at home, now would be the perfect time to invest in a good one.
Tip: if you do not have a tongue scraper – you can use the back of a spoon to scrap your tongue
Avoiding smoking and drinking
Consumption of alcohol should be done in moderation and smoking cigarettes should be avoided at all costs. If you are a heavy smoker/drinker, it is high time to start cutting back before you start experiencing one or more symptoms of tongue disease.
Practice safe sex
Since a number of infections can be transferred via oral contact (oral sex) such as HPV; it is only wise to become more vigilant by way of practicing safe sex.
This should start with abandoning you fast food habits, or at least cutting back on eating out. Eating more greens and fresh fruits would not only prevent tongue problems but also help keep your entire body healthy.
Regular dental checkups
Your dentist can tell you a lot about how to care for the tongue as well as the teeth. Two visits per year is the minimum but a check up every three months is ideal.
Caring for the tongue is just as important as anything else you do to maintain a health physique. Seemingly inconsequential habits such as regular brushing and scraping can make a great deal of difference in maintaining a healthy and disease free tongue.
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