The tongue is a muscular hydrostat on the floors of the mouths of most vertebrates which manipulates food for mastication. It is the primary organ of taste, as much of the upper surface of the tongue is covered in papillae and taste buds. It is sensitive and kept moist by saliva, and is richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels. In humans a secondary function of the tongue is phonetic articulation. The tongue also serves as a natural means of cleaning one's teeth. The ability to perceive different tastes is not localised in different parts of the tongue, as is widely believed.
Though often hailed as "the strongest muscle in the body," the tongue is actually made up of a group of muscles that allow us to taste food, swallow, and talk. A healthy tongue is pink and covered with small nodules called papillae.
Because you use your tongue constantly, it can be frustrating and uncomfortable when you experience tongue problems, including discoloration and soreness. There are a variety of causes for a number of common tongue symptoms. Fortunately, the majority of tongue problems are not serious and most can be resolved quickly.
What Causes a Red or Strawberry Tongue?
There are multiple factors that can cause a normally pink tongue to turn red. In some instances, the tongue may even take on the appearance of a strawberry with enlarged, red taste buds dotting the surface. Possible causes include:
Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin B-12 may cause your tongue to take on a reddish appearance.
Geographic tongue. This condition, also known as benign migratory glossitis, is named for the map-like pattern of reddish spots that develop on the surface of the tongue. At times, these patches have a white border around them, and their location on the tongue may shift over time. Though usually harmless, you should check with your dentist to investigate red patches that last longer than two weeks. Once your dentist has determined that the redness is a result of geographic tongue, no further treatment is necessary. If the condition makes your tongue sore or uncomfortable, you may be prescribed topical medications to alleviate discomfort.
What Causes a White Tongue?
There are a number of things that can cause a whitish coating or white spots to develop on the tongue, including:
Leukoplakia. This condition causes cells in the mouth to grow excessively. That, in turn, leads to the formation of white patches inside the mouth, including on the tongue. Although not dangerous on its own, leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer. So it is important for your dentist to determine the cause of white patches on your tongue. Leukoplakia can develop when the tongue has been irritated and is often found in people who use tobacco products.