What is a Healthy Tongue Color?

tongue color

What is a Healthy Tongue Color?

Your tongue helps you speak, chew, swallow, and taste. It has 10,000 taste buds, and each taste bud has 50 to 150 taste receptors that allow you to enjoy your food. Believe it or not, your tongue also says a lot about what’s going on in your body. As a holistic dental practice, our team at Prescott Dentistry believes that your oral health is connected to your overall health. Read on to learn more about abnormal tongue colors and what they might mean. 


A Healthy Tongue 

First, it’s important to know what’s normal for a healthy tongue. A healthy tongue is typically light pink in color, but it can still vary slightly in dark and light shades. It might also have a slight white coating. Your tongue has small nodules, called papillae. Here are 6 abnormal tongue colors to look out for: 


1. White coating or spots

It’s normal to have a thin white coating on your tongue first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. This is caused by debris, bacteria and dead cells that should be easily brushed away when you brush your teeth. A thick, white coating or patches on the tongue, however, could need prompt treatment. The following conditions can cause this symptom:

  • Oral thrush—A fungal infection, also known as candidiasis. Oral thrush is more likely to occur in babies and the elderly because of diminished immunity. 
  • Oral lichen planus—A chronic inflammatory condition affecting the mucous membranes inside your mouth. It is characterized by white patches that may cause pain and a burning sensation. 
  • Leukoplakia—A condition in which one or more white patches or spots form inside the mouth/on the tongue. This is different from other conditions that cause white patches because it can eventually become oral cancer.

2. Red color or patches

  • Vitamin deficiency—Folic acid and vitamin B-12 deficiencies may cause your tongue to appear red. A simple blood test can determine these levels.
  • Geographic tongue—This condition causes red patches with a white border to develop on the surface of your tongue. They may move over time. Geographic tongue is usually harmless.
  • Scarlet fever—This is a serious infection that causes a strawberry-like (red and bumpy) appearance to the tongue. Be sure to see your doctor if you have a fever and a red tongue because you will need antibiotics to treat it. 
  • Kawasaki disease—This is a condition that can also cause the tongue to have a strawberry-like appearance. It occurs in children under the age of 5 and is accompanied by a high fever. 

3. Yellow 

A yellow tongue is generally less serious and is usually caused by bacterial growth. Other causes may include:

  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Taking certain vitamins
  • Psoriasis
  • Jaundice (this is rare)

4. Black/hairy 

A black, hairy tongue may sound very concerning, but it’s generally harmless. It results from a buildup of dead skin cells on the tiny projections (papillae) on the surface of the tongue. These papillae can easily trap and be stained by bacteria, yeast, tobacco, food or other substances. It usually clears up after eliminating causative factors and practicing good oral hygiene. 

A black, hairy tongue may be due to:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Antibiotics
  • Diabetes
  • Chemotherapy treatments


Give us a Call 

Taking care of your tongue is an important, and often overlooked, part of daily oral hygiene. It can freshen your breath, improve your sense of taste, help prevent gum disease and tooth decay, and improve your overall health. And of course, keeping up with your regular dental appointments here at Prescott Dentistry is also an integral part of your overall dental hygiene. Give us a call to schedule your next cleaning. We look forward to helping you keep your mouth healthy and beautiful!


Photo by Nathan Hanna on Unsplash