Diagnosing the tongue: A Window To Your Health?

Feeling lethargic? Under the weather? Stick out your tongue. Your tongue is one of the most under appreciated and overlooked organs in your body. A tongue is truly a fascinating thing. Not only does it consist of eight muscles that run in all directions so your tongue can move in the many unique ways it does, but your tongue helps you taste, chew, talk, and swallow. It also acts as a built-in sponge keeping your mouth clean.  But, did you know that your tongue is a window to your health? Traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, and perhaps even your own doctor use the tongue to diagnose illness. In today’s blog your Lake Forest Dentist, Dr. Fondriest, discusses what your tongue says about your health.

A Healthy Tongue

Your tongue is richly supplied with blood vessels. The constant flow of saliva in your mouth helps keep your tongue clean and discourages harmful oral bacteria from forming in your mouth. Your tongue is meant to be a healthy pinkish color. It should move freely in your mouth and be moist. But, if the color or texture of your tongue changes, it may be a sign of illness. In Western industrialized countries, tongue diagnoses are based on scientific evidence and are an effective way of reading symptoms. When your doctor asks you to stick out your tongue he or she may be looking for:

  • Thrush
  • Anemia
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney problems
  • Cyanosis (lack of oxygen reaching the lungs)

Chinese naturopaths use the tongue to diagnose:

  • Allergies
  • Digestive problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor circulation

What Does Your Tongue Say?

The color, texture, and coating on your tongue are all health indicators.

Tongue Color

Bright red:

An inflamed, bright red tongue may indicate a lack of vitamin B and iron. Iron is necessary for energy and vitality. B vitamins are needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Foods rich in vitamin B and iron include nuts, shellfish, lean meats, and apricots.


A pale tongue could indicate low iron or anemia. You may feel tired and lethargic. Lean meats and liver are high in iron.


A purple tongue indicates a lack of oxygen. This could be due to chronic bronchitis which reduces oxygen flow, high cholesterol, heart problems, or poor circulation.


A spot on your tongue that changes shape, size, or color by turning brown or otherwise darker may indicate melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

Tongue Coating

Thick white coating:

A thin white coating on your tongue is natural. However, a thick heavy plaque could indicate a fungal infection such as oral thrush or candidiasis. It may also indicate digestive issues.

Thick white, brownish, or grayish coating:

A thick white, brownish, or grayish coating particularly on the back of your tongue indicates a buildup of anaerobic bacteria that is feasting on the leftover debris in your mouth and on your tongue. This bacterium is the major cause of bad breath.

Tongue Texture

Dry tongue:

A dry tongue can be the effect of certain medicines, a hormonal imbalance, or stress. Chronic dry tongue may indicate Sjogren’s syndrome–an immune system disorder. To stimulate saliva flow, drink a mixture of cider vinegar and lemon juice in water.

Raised red spots:

Red spots on the tongue can indicate allergies such as eczema or asthma. If the tip of the tongue is red this may indicate a lack of bioflavonoids found in vitamin C. To keep red spots at bay, eat berries, kiwi, peppers, and citrus fruits.

If at any time you experience any of the following, contact your dentist.

  • Swollen tongue
  • Painful tongue
  • Burning tongue
  • Loss of taste
  • Abnormal movements of the tongue
  • Difficulty moving your tongue

Diagnosing the tongue is just part of a good checkup

If you are suffering from chronic bad breath, discuss the many treatment options with Dr. Fondriest. Aside from providing dependable general and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, knowledgeable staff. To schedule a consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.

Dr. Fondriest is a Nationally recognized and highly sought after cosmetic dentist serving clients from throughout the United States