The colour of your tongue: What it may indicate about your health

A healthy tongue is typically pink in colour, indicating good circulation and overall well-being. Picture: Girl with red hat /Pexels

A healthy tongue is typically pink in colour, indicating good circulation and overall well-being. Picture: Girl with red hat /Pexels

Published Oct 23, 2023


The tongue, often overlooked, can provide valuable insights into our overall health. Its colour can be an indicator of underlying conditions or imbalances within the body. By understanding what the colour of your tongue may signify, you can take proactive steps to address any potential health concerns.

Changes in tongue colour are typical and can signify a health problem. The severity of the underlying disorders varies, and some require medical treatment.

The top and sides of a healthy tongue are normally pink with a whitish coating. According to the Medical News Today website, if changes in the colour, shape, size, or texture of the tongue last more than a few days, it is probably a good idea to see a doctor.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, nutrition might occasionally be to blame for a change in tongue tone. This is due to the papillae’s ability to absorb the colours and residues of the foods and beverages you ingest.

That blue popsicle or sweets you ate as a kid, for example, undoubtedly tinted your tongue an intriguing hue of azure. Coffee, tea, and many foods, including curried dishes with a lot of yellow turmeric, can all leave their imprints.

However, discolouration is usually only transient. Drinking plenty of water and practising proper dental hygiene will help to wash away food and pigments that have clung to the tongue.

Pink tongue

A healthy tongue is typically pink, indicating good circulation and overall well-being. If your tongue appears pale or lighter than usual, it may suggest anaemia or a deficiency in iron or vitamin B12.

Consult with a health-care professional to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Red tongue

A bright red or strawberry-coloured tongue may indicate a vitamin deficiency, particularly vitamin B3 (niacin) or vitamin B12. It can also be a sign of a condition called glossitis, which is inflammation of the tongue.

Additionally, a red tongue with a “strawberry-like” appearance may be associated with Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that primarily affects children. If your tongue consistently appears red, seek medical advice for further evaluation.

White-coated tongue

A white coating on the tongue can be a sign of oral thrush, a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida. It may also indicate a build-up of bacteria and debris, poor oral hygiene or a weakened immune system.

In some cases, a white-coated tongue can be a side effect of certain medications. Maintaining good oral hygiene and seeking appropriate treatment can help resolve the underlying issue.

Yellow tongue

A yellowish discolouration of the tongue can be a result of poor oral hygiene, smoking, or an excess build-up of bacteria. It may also indicate a liver or gallbladder disorder.

If the yellow discolouration persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as jaundice or abdominal pain, consult a health-care professional for further evaluation.

Black hairy tongue

Although it may sound alarming, a black hairy tongue is typically harmless and temporary. It occurs when the papillae on the surface of the tongue become overgrown and trap bacteria, food particles and other debris.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, certain medications, and excessive coffee or tea consumption can contribute to this condition.

Maintaining good oral hygiene and gently brushing the tongue can help resolve it. For good oral hygiene, floss your teeth at least once a day and brush them at least twice a day, in addition to using a tongue scraper.

The colour of your tongue can provide valuable clues about your overall health. While some tongue discolourations may be harmless and temporary, others may indicate underlying health conditions or imbalances.

If you notice any persistent changes in the colour or appearance of your tongue, it is advisable to consult a health-care professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Remember, paying attention to your tongue’s colour can be an important step towards maintaining your overall well-being.

Usually, a person has a pink tongue with a thin white coating. The shade of pink may be light or dark.

A healthy tongue has many papillae on the top and sides. The papillae are small, fleshy bumps that give the top of the tongue a coarse texture.