Tongue Problems

  • Medical Author:
    Donna S. Bautista, DDS

    Dr. Donna S. Bautista, DDS, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor of arts in biochemistry and cell biology. During her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in basic research including studying processes related to DNA transcription in the field of molecular biology. Upon graduation, she went on to attend dental school at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to her formal dental training, she provided dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area through clinics and health fairs. She also worked toward mentoring high school students interested in the field of dentistry.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideTop Problems in Your Mouth

Top Problems in Your Mouth

Red tongue

There are obvious causes of red color change of the tongue, such as something you ate (strawberries or red-colored foods). Some acidic foods can cause temporary redness and discomfort. However, a discolored red tongue can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Some red color changes on the tongue ("strawberry tongue") could be related to a vitamin deficiency, Kawasaki disease, or a strep infection (scarlet fever).

Erythroplakia is a red area or lesion that cannot be rubbed off on the tongue (except for the color, it is similar to leukoplakia). A lesion with a combined white and red appearance is called erythroleukoplakia. These lesions are all considered to have premalignant potential. Erythroplakia and erythroleukoplakia have an increased risk of premalignancy compared to leukoplakia. In addition to appearance, cause for concern can be if the lesion or sore does not go away or grows in size. A biopsy is recommended by an oral surgeon or an ENT specialist to rule out oral cancer.

Black tongue

A black tongue is usually a harmless condition that can be caused by medications, smoking, poor oral hygiene, soft diet, or dry mouth. A black tongue is usually associated with elongated tongue papillae and thus, it is called "black hairy tongue" (lingua villosa nigra). The cause is thought to be a change in the normal bacteria in the mouth after antibiotic treatment or use of products that contain bismuth such as Pepto-Bismol. ("Hairy tongue" by itself can also be white or tan.) Treatment may involve improving one's diet, smoking cessation, and improved oral hygiene (including gently brushing or scraping the tongue).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/31/2017

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