What causes the tongue to change colour?

We use our tongues constantly: to talk, to swallow, and to eat. So it can be frustrating when your tongue doesn’t work as it should. Common tongue problems include soreness, pain and discolouration. There are a number of causes for tongue discolouration, but fortunately, most can be solved fairly easily. Read on to learn more.


Vitamin deficiencies

Deficiency in certain vitamins can cause your tongue to change colour. For example, deficiencies in vitamin B3 (niacin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cobalamin) can all cause your tongue to become red. Eating a varied diet can help prevent vitamin deficiencies like these.


Kawasaki syndrome

Kawasaki syndrome is another health problem that can turn the tongue red. It’s a disease where blood vessels throughout the body become inflamed. It usually only affects small children and it is not contagious. Furthermore, it is a rare condition and most people recover from it without any lasting problems.



Leukoplakia is a white patch that typically occurs on the tongue and the inside of the mouth. It’s quite rare as it only affects around 2% of people. The cause is unknown, but known risk factors include alcohol and smoking. Leukoplakia is often not serious and usually goes away on its own when the patient stops smoking and limits their alcohol intake. Surgically removal might also be necessary.


Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the mouth. It manifests as white patches on the tongue and the inside of the mouth. Oral thrush is most common in infants, the elderly, diabetics and people with weakened immune systems. Antibiotics are another cause of oral thrush, because they kill all bacteria in the mouth indiscriminately, good and bad. This creates an opportunity for thrush to grow.


Lingua villosa nigra

Believe it or not, there’s a condition that turns the tongue black. It’s called lingua villosa nigra, which means ‘black hairy tongue’. Although the name suggests that the tongue becomes hairy, it only actually takes on the appearance of hair. The papillae on the tongue become longer and look like small hairs. A black tongue is also not as serious as it sounds; it’s caused by bacteria overgrowing on the tongue. The solution is usually just to practice better oral hygiene, especially by brushing or scraping the tongue.


Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition where red spots appear on the tongue. The spots occur in a map-like pattern, thus the name ‘geographic tongue’. The spots sometimes also have a white border around them. The condition is usually harmless and goes away on its own after a few days. A dentist or doctor might prescribe a topical cream if the spots are sore or painful.



If your tongue has changed colour or if you think you have one of the conditions above, then don’t hesitate to see a doctor or dentist. They will be able to confirm a diagnosis and provide treatments if necessary.

Leave a reply