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A Sign of Something Else?

Can the tongue show signs of severe health issues? According to a new study presented in June on HFA Discoveries, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology, the answer is yes.

The study results showed that the tongues of individuals living with chronic heart failure had a completely different appearance from the tongues of people without CHF.

While more research is needed, the study authors hope their results will improve screening and diagnosis and may help monitor and potentially improve patient outcomes.

Healthy individuals' tongues are pale red with a pale white coating. Tongues of those with heart failure tend to be redder with a yellowish surface.

As chronic heart failure worsens, changes in the tongue are more visible.

What causes the changes in the tongue's appearance?

The changes develop as a result of variations in the composition, quantity and kinds of bacteria on the tongue.

Previous studies found that the composition of the tongue coating was notable in patients with pancreatic cancer compared to those without the condition. Other research has revealed that microbial imbalance in the mouth may be an indication of illness and inflammation.

"In many cases, what is going on in the mouth is an indicator that something else is happening in the body," said Dr. David Buck, a Seattle dentist.

Another serious condition that shows red flags in the mouth is sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by repeated breathing interruptions during sleep.

"Many people living with sleep apnea do not realize they're experiencing breathing interruptions, or don't connect their loud snoring or frequently waking up in the night to a sleep disorder," Buck said.

The untrained eye does not easily spot the signs of the mouth's condition, but an experienced dentist would notice them at a regular checkup.

"In some cases, tooth grinding (bruxism) can be an indicator of sleep apnea, as many people subconsciously clench their teeth to restore regular breathing," Buck said.

Over time, this grinding can wear down tooth enamel.

"Teeth become worn down and flattened. They can also experience fractures and chips because of the pressure of grinding and clenching," Buck said.

Other signs of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, frequent waking up to urinate during sleep, headaches, daytime fatigue, and difficulty focusing during the day.

Source: European Society of Cardiology. "Tongue microbes provide window to heart health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2020.

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