You probably know how smoking can damage your lungs, but did you know the havoc tobacco use can wreak on your tongue? Though some effects can be relatively benign, others can lead to serious, even life-threatening, conditions.
Discolored and Hairy
If you look in the mirror and notice that your tongue is white, black, splotched, or furry, you know it is time to quit smoking. Your tongue is covered with tiny finger-like projections called papillae. If you smoke excessively, the chemicals in the tobacco will keep these papillae from shedding as they should. Instead they grow longer and longer, trapping food particles, dead cells, and bacteria between them. According to the Mayo Clinic, “hairy tongue” is usually harmless, but can lead to severe halitosis and an unsightly tongue.
To get rid of a furry black, white, or yellow tongue, stop smoking, buy mouthwashes without oxidizing agents , and use a tongue scraper regularly.
When you put cigarettes, cigars, or chewing tobacco into your mouth, you kill the beneficial bacteria that keep other microorganisms at bay. This is especially true in the case of oral thrush, a condition caused by an over-production of the fungus Candida (yeast) inside your mouth. Your tongue and interior cheeks can become covered with a thick, creamy, cottage cheese-like substance as the fungus proliferates.
Stop using tobacco products and try home remedies like unsweetened plain yogurt and acidophilus. If oral thrush persists, ask your doctor for antifungal medication.
Meaning “white patch”, leukoplakia is a persistent white area on your tongue that cannot be wiped away. The condition is closely linked to smoking and can clear up if smoking is stopped. Though leukoplakia is usually a benign but irritating condition, two to six percent of cases become pre-cancerous, requiring surgical removal. White patches may appear on the tongue or inside cheeks or lips, and are directly related to the quantity, frequency, and location of cigarette or cigar use.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, almost 5,000 Americans die of oral cancer every year. The use of tobacco products has long been associated with a higher risk for oral cancer. The mouth is full of vascular tissues that can be damaged due to inhaling, chewing, or dipping tobacco products. Cancer can begin in the tongue, causing white or red patches or bumps or the formation of a painful or asymptomatic lump. If left untreated, cancer may lead to loss of some or all of the tongue, resulting in difficulty eating, swallowing, and speaking.
Tongue cancer can move to the lymphatic system and spread throughout the body causing death. If your tongue appears odd or is painful, consult a dental or medical expert right away. Smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.
Treat your tongue right by quitting smoking. Not only will you feel better, but your sense of taste will improve and you’ll be more attractive to others. For assistance, see your doctor or visit smokefree.gov for information on how to stop using tobacco products.