Cancer’s probably the last thing you think of when you go for a cleaning, but your dentist could be the front line in detecting head, neck, and oral cancers.
Any bump or sore on your tongue (or elsewhere in your mouth) that lingers longer than two weeks needs to be checked out.
A condition called leukoplakia can produce white patches on your tongue caused by uncontrolled growth of cells in your mouth. Leukoplakia can be harmless, but it can also herald cancer down the line and should be checked.
Dr. Kauffman has seen an increase in one form of oral cancer in particular.
“There’s been a preponderance of HPV-related squamous cell carcinoma of the base portion of the tongue,” he says. “Kids [should be] vaccinated because we’ve seen this huge uptick that’s related to HPV.” Current guidelines recommend the HPV vaccine for girls and boys around age 11 or 12; it’s also recommended for women and men who weren’t vaccinated as preteens up to ages 26 and 21, respectively.
A healthy tongue is pinkish-red in color. A bright red tongue could be a sign of not enough folic acid, vitamin B12, or iron. Often these deficiencies can be corrected with supplements and/or tweaks to your diet.
A bright red tongue could also be a sign of strep throat or Kawasaki disease, a rare and usually treatable condition that causes inflammation in some blood vessels, typically among small children.
Don’t automatically freak out if your tongue blares red in the mirror. It could just as easily be from that strawberry smoothie or some too-hot soup that burned. Taste buds grow back!