What colour should your tongue be?

Check your health by looking at your tongue

Keeping an eye on your tongue can give you clues about problems in your mouth. To check your tongue - stick it out and look in the mirror. 

A healthy tongue should be pink and covered with small nodules (papillae). Any deviation from your tongue’s healthy appearance or any pain may be a cause for concern.

Our dentist, Dr. Alexandra Zemskova, explains why you should watch for changes that might need to be evaluated by a doctor or dentist.

Check your health by looking at your tongue

Check your health by looking at your tongue

What causes a white tongue?

A white tongue, or white spots on your tongue, could be an indication of several conditions. Let's look at them closer. 


This is a condition when cells in the mouth grow excessively. This excess leads to white patches in the mouth and on the tongue. Leukoplakia can also develop as a result of tongue irritation. This condition is often seen in people who use tobacco products. 

Leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer but not dangerous on its own. If you see what you think could be leukoplakia, contact our dentist for an exam.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is an infection of the oral mucous membrane in patients with lower immune system. It shows up on the surface of the tongue in a white coating on a red inflamed surface, occurring anywhere in the mouth. Oral thrush on the tongue includes occasional pain & fever. Usually, you can wipe the outer layer with a tissue, unlike leukoplakia, which is not removable.

Oral thrush is regularly seen in infants & the elderly, especially with dentures. 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.

Oral lichen planus

Is lesions of oral planus & most often shows up as white patches on the inside of the cheeks. Oral lichen planus may cause sensitivity to brushing and food, tenderness or burning sensation in the mouth, which can also cause some pain. 

 What causes red patches on the tongue?

A red tongue may be an early sign of:

Vitamin deficiency

Lack of vitamin B-12 or folic acid in your body may cause your tongue to turn reddish. You might also experience "burning" tongue.

Geographic tongue

This condition can take on a map-like pattern of reddish/whitish spots on your tongue. These spots can have a white border around them, and spots location can shift with time. Although the geographic tongue is usually harmless, your dentist should monitor it.

Scarlet fever

Patients who develop scarlet fever will have a bright red. If you notice a fever and have a red tongue, make sure to contact your doctor immediately. The antibiotic treatment will need necessary if you get scarlet fever. 

Kawasaki disease

Is another condition that causes the tongue to have a strawberry-like colour. This disease most often appears in children under the age of five (5) and is accompanied by a high fever. Kawasaki disease is a severe condition that requires the immediate attention of your doctor. 

Why is my tongue black and hairy?

Although not that appealing in its appearance, a black, hairy tongue is usually nothing serious. 

Bumps on your tongue called papillae, continuously grow on your tongue throughout your life. Some people get papillae to grow excessively, and sometimes papillae do not wear out during daily activities. Longer papillae can retain more bacteria which will appear darker or black.

Fortunately, this is a rare condition and not severe. This condition is more likely to occur if there is poor oral hygiene. People with diabetes or people taking antibiotics may develop a hairy, black tongue. 

Longer papillae can retain more bacteria which will appear darker or black

Longer papillae can retain more bacteria which will appear darker or black

Why do I have a sore tongue?

Painful bumps on your tongue may be due to the following conditions.

Trauma to soft tissue

Accidentally biting your tongue or cheek, burning or cutting yourself can result in a sore tongue. In this instance, you may have to let the damage heal. 

Teeth grinding or teeth clenching may irritate the sides of your tongue and can even become painful. 


Use of tobacco product like cigarettes irritates your tongue, gums and cheeks, which may result in soreness. 

Canker sores (mouth ulcers)

It is a common occurrence for people to develop canker sores on the tongue. The actual cause is unknown; however, stress is commonly considered to be a factor. Good news is that canker sores heal on their own within two weeks. 

Oral cancer

a lump, sore or an ulcer that doesn't go away after two weeks could be an early indication of oral cancer. It is important to remember that many oral cancers don't cause pain in the early stages. Do not assume that because there is no pain, there is no need to address it. 

Good oral hygiene is essential in your overall health, so make sure to brush your teeth and floss regularly. Keep an eye on your tongue daily and watch for any discoloration, lumps, pain or sores, and if it last longer then two weeks - schedule a consultation with our dentist.