January 11, 2015
The color of a healthy tongue is pink and it has a layer of small nodules that are known as papillae. It is these hair-like nodules that give the tongue its characteristic rough surface. There are four types of lingual papillae - vallate, fungiform, foliate and filiform papillae. Other than filiform papillae, the other three papillae are related to taste buds.
The tongue can get inflamed and become painful due to several oral and systemic reasons. Oral reasons may be ill-fitting dentures, thrush, viral infections, mouth sores. Some of the systemic reasons may be deficiencies, infections, AIDs. Depending on the cause of inflammation there may be depapillation, that is, the surface of the tongue may take on a smooth look instead of its normal rough surface. In fact, the condition of the tongue is a reliable indication of one’s general health.
A tongue condition that is sometimes observed is the ‘strawberry tongue’. In this condition, the tongue takes the distinctive red color of a strawberry. This is different from general inflammation of the tongue, glossitis, which often exhibits a smooth shiny tongue. This is characterized by enlargement of the fungiform papillae. Thus, along with the reddening of the tongue, it is dotted with raised papillae giving it the look of a strawberry. It can take two colors – white and red. It is sometimes also referred to as ‘raspberry tongue’.
A strawberry tongue generally reflects a systemic disease rather than oral disorder. Among the possible reasons are:
This is a childhood disease which is caused by Streptococcus infection. A tongue that looks like the surface of a strawberry is one of the distinguishing features of this disease among other symptoms like red rashes and fever. In the initial stage of the infection, the child develops a white strawberry tongue which turns red after four to five days.
This is a rare disorder that occurs in young children. It is characterized by fever, rashes and red mouth including the tongue. It causes inflammation of blood vessels in the whole body. It needs to be watched even after the child has recovered as it can sometimes have an adverse effect on heart blood vessels. The cause for this disorder is not known.
Toxic shock syndrome
This is characterized by fever, drop in blood pressure, vomiting, rashes, red mouth and throat. It is caused by toxins released by certain bacteria. This can quickly assume life threatening proportions.
There are other conditions that may cause a red tongue, such as geographic tongue. But in this condition there may only be patches that may be red with white edges. The whole tongue will not turn red and bumpy. Besides this, deficiencies, especially of vitamin B group may cause the tongue to become red, but it will have a smooth appearance. Therefore, it cannot be termed a strawberry tongue as the typical raised papillae will not be there. It is always better to consult a dentist or a physician to rule out more serious systematic conditions.