What mouth symptoms can tell you about your health

Canker sores or mouth ulcers are pretty run of the mill mouth complaints that can be caused by anything from the sharp edges of dental braces, overzealous brushing, a cheek or tongue bite to just being a bit run down. However, did you know that canker sores can also be symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases and many chronic other diseases? 

Here is a list of a few other health issues that can be indicated by the symptoms you experience within your mouth and tongue.

Bright Red Tongue

Strawberries, spicy food, and acidic foods can cause a temporary, yet medically unrelated redness on your tongue. Even a few mainstream meal replacements, like those in Nick English’s video and review, have surprisingly red colours which can stain the tongue.

However, a tongue that is consistently raspberry-coloured may be one of the underlying signs of one of these health issues: Kawasaki disease, vitamin B-12 deficiency, scarlet fever and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). 

Kawasaki disease is a disorder that mainly strikes young children and is of unknown cause. It usually causes children to have a strawberry colored tongue, bloodshot eyes, skin rash and peeling along with a high fever. Aspirin can lessen the inflammation, whilst an infusion of an immune protein (gamma globulin) through a vein (intravenously) can lower the risk of coronary artery problems.

Vitamin B-12 deficiencycan cause a strawberry tongue and glossitis—a smooth, swollen tongue. Other symptoms of this disorder include balance problems, fatigue, weakness, numbness or tingling, and memory difficulties. Consuming Vitamin-B rich food is recommended to improve blood levels of these essential micronutrients. 

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that can potentially develop when children between 5-15 suffer from strep throat—which is a sore throat caused by the streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Similar to other fevers, antibiotics can help and over the counter medication can reduce a child’s temperature caused by the illness.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an infection caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. It’s well reported that TSS has been associated with the use of nasal gauze packings and tampons. TSS needs immediate treatment otherwise it can become life-threatening and antibiotics must be taken to prevent the infection from spreading.

White Tongue

If you don’t take good care of your mouth and your general health, then you’re more likely to have a white tongue. Papillae, which look like small bumps are found on the tongue, and will start to swell and inflamed if you have poor oral hygiene. Between these papillae, different kinds of food particles or debris, dead cells, and germs will get stuck and build up, causing your tongue to turn white. 

The most common oral issues that can cause a white tongue are as follows: 

  • dry mouth, which results from sleeping while with mouth wide open or mouth-breathing 
  • improper brushing
  • infrequent flossing
  • not cleaning the tongue
  • mouth irritations caused by sharp edges from teeth, dentures, or dental braces
  • chewing gums too much
  • smoking or dipping tobacco 
  • dehydration, which typically results from alcohol consumption or inadequate water consumption

There are a few illnesses which can also cause white tongue such as leukoplakia, oral thrush, oral lichen planus and syphilis. 

Leukoplakia looks like hard, flat, and white spots that cannot be scraped, if you suffer from these keep an eye on them as they can also be a symptom of cancer. For its treatment, the patient should be monitored with a healthcare professional, and refrain from drinking alcohol. 

Oral thrush is a fungal infection caused by Candida yeast. It looks like creamy white spots. This condition can be caused by having dentures, a bacterial imbalance in your mouth caused by an illness or medication, diabetes, vitamin B or iron deficiency, and it’s also a sign of a weakened immune system. Taking antifungal medicines is the typical treatment for this. 

Oral lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that affects the mouth - it looks like lacy white patches. Corticosteroids are typically prescribed for this condition - consult a doctor/dentist if the symptom persists. 

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Aside from a regular check-up from a physician, you will be prescribed with antibiotics penicillin if your tongue is whitening. You’ll also be advised to refrain from consuming and using irritants like alcohol and tobacco. 

Fissured Tongue

Often, doctors can easily diagnose patients who have fissured tongues. It usually affects  the middle part of the tongue and appears as if your tongue is split in half lengthwise or cracked, in which grooves are typically visible. 

fissured tongue is generally a harmless condition and typically happens as we age. No treatment is needed apart from the encouragement of proper oral hygiene. Gently brush the top surface of your tongue to get rid of the bacteria and food debris trapped in the grooves. You may want to cleanse the tongue to avoid possible bad breath and irritation. 

There are many specific devices available at most local pharmacies that can help in cleaning your tongue well, ranging from advanced, electronic toothbrushes to menthol free mouthwashes. For fissures, dentists can assist you with specific treatment and devices to use. 

However, it has also been linked to Down syndrome, Sjögren’s syndrome, and psoriasis. 

An inflammatory condition called geographic tongue that affects the top and sides of the tongue is more likely to exist to individuals who have psoriasis. A geographic tongue has no specific causes, but it can be genetically related but not contagious. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it can develop at any age between 15 and 30 and can also be common amongst those who have a malfunctioning immune system response caused by stress, injury or illness.  

If you are not feeling any pain, your doctor might recommend you to wait and see or he may prescribe you with topical anesthetics or anti-inflammatories such as acitretin or methotrexate.