Stick Out Your Tongue: Here’s What Your Tongue Color Really Means

woman making a face

Sticking your tongue out at the doctor to say “Ahhh” seems like a routine thing to do when you go to the doctors office. Oftentimes, it often seems pointless because the doctor usually takes a look and goes right ahead with the next part of the examination. But little do you know, the tongue itself can reveal a lot about your health without you saying a word, especially if it changes colors.

Here’s what you need to know if your tongue changes any of these colors:


White Coating / White Spots
A white tongue, or white spots on your tongue, could be an indication of:

Oral thrush: a yeast infection that develops inside the mouth. It appears as white patches that are often the consistency of cottage cheese. “Oral thrush is most commonly seen in infants and the elderly, especially denture wearers, or in people with weakened immune systems,” says Dr. Allan. “People with diabetes and those who are taking inhaled steroids for asthma or lung disease can also get it. Oral thrush is more likely to occur after you’ve taken antibiotics.”

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Leukoplakia: a condition in which the cells in the mouth grow excessively, which leads to white patches on the tongue and inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can develop when the tongue has been irritated. It’s often seen in people who use tobacco products. Leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer, but isn’t inherently dangerous by itself. If you see what you think could be leukoplakia, contact your dentist for an evaluation.

Oral lichen planus: a network of raised white lines on your tongue that look similar to lace. We don’t always know what causes this condition, but it usually resolves on its own.


Red Tongue

Vitamin deficiency: Folic acid and vitamin B-12 deficiencies may cause your tongue to take on a reddish appearance.

Geographic tongue: This condition causes a map-like pattern of reddish spots to develop on the surface of your tongue. Different shades of red patches can have a white border around them, and their location on your tongue may shift over time, but geographic tongue is usually harmless.

Scarlet fever: an infection that causes the tongue to have a strawberry-like (red and bumpy) appearance.
Kawasaki disease: a condition that can also cause the tongue to have a strawberry-like appearance. It is seen in children under the age of 5 and is accompanied by a high fever. It demands immediate medical evaluation.

Black Tongue and/or Hairy
Much like hair, the papillae on your tongue grow throughout your lifetime. In some people, they become…

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