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Facts About the Tongue You Might Not Know

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession, and I enjoy writing about medical issues. I'm also interested in history, genealogy, and travel.

Healthy Tongue

Healthy Tongue

Unique Anatomy of the Tongue

Every tongue is very unique, not unlike fingerprints. Currently, there are researchers working on reliable ways to use the tongue as biometric authentication to identify an individual. It is amazing!

The tongue has 2,000 to 10,000 taste buds. Contrary to current belief there are no places on the tongue where taste buds are specific to just sweets, salt or tart flavors. Taste buds exist in the epiglottis and the back of the throat also. The tongue has small, pinkish-white bumps, called papillae, that are actually very fine hairlike projections. The papillae can be seen in the above picture.

On average the taste buds die off and are then replaced every 10 to 14 days. There are some people with more than 10,000 taste buds, and they are known as supertasters. Children and infants have more taste buds than adults, with some taste buds even in their cheeks and lips. This may explain why they can be so picky about food.

The tongue is very flexible, and it has eight intertwining muscles that create this flexibility. The tongue muscles are the only muscles in the body that are totally independent of the skeleton.

The tongue is separated by a length of vertical fibrous tissue. The muscles in the tongue enable shaping the tongue to facilitate eating, swallowing and talking. The tongue muscles never get tired.

Average Length of the Tongue

The average tongue for an adult male is 3.3 inches long, and a female tongue averages 3.1 inches. However, Nick Stoeberl has a tongue of approximately 3.9 inches, and he is in the Guiness Book of World Records. Enjoy the short video below if you want to see the longest tongue on record.

Signs of an Unhealthy Tongue

The healthy tongue is a pink shade, but if it is smoother than a normal tongue you may have a deficiency of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron or folic acid. A very red tongue may indicate a sore and/or fever.

If the tongue has white patches, which may also be on the inside of the mouth, that typically means you have thrush. Thrush (a fungal infection) is easily treated, but you need a prescription from your doctor.

The University of Pennsylvania completed of study of people with obstructive sleep apnea, and they found obese individuals had a larger tongue, which had more fat.

A yellow tongue usually indicates some type of stomach problem. You may have pain or a burning sensation on you tongue, and spicy or acidic food is typically the cause.

Let the tongue speaks what the heart thinks.

— Davy Crockett

Oral Cancers

Cancers can also affect the tongue and 90% are squamous cell carcinomas. The cancer may by a primary lesion or it may metastasise from the throat, nasal cavity or another anatomic structure. Approximately 75% of the cancers are due to modifiable behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption or some type of tobacco use.

The growth on the side of the tongue in the above picture is cancer.

Geographic Tongue

Geographic Tongue

Geographic Tongue

This condition gives the tongue a geographic appearance with lesions or patches, These lesions may heal in one area of the tongue and move to another area. This is a benign condition, which is also called benign migratory glossitis. There may be discomfort with increased sensitivity to particular food flavors, such as salt, spices or even sweets.

These symptoms may include:

  • The size and shape of the lesions frequently change in location
  • Irregularly shaped lesions or patches that are red, smooth and irregularly shaped
  • These patches may be located on the sides or top of the tongue
  • Pain, burning sensation in some cases related to eating acidic or spicy food
  • People may not have any symptoms
  • The tongue may have a light-colored or white appearance along the borders

If your symptoms do not resolve in ten days it is time to see your doctor or dentist. The cause of this condition may be genetic as it tends to run in families. This condition may last for a year.

There are over-the-counter treatments, such as anti-inflammatories, zinc or various mouth rinses. The doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid ointment applied directly on the tongue.

Unfortunately, some people with this disorder may have fissured tongues, and the appearance of deeper grooves or fissures may appear on the tongue’s surface.

Unhealthy Tongue

Unhealthy Tongue

Give thy thoughts no tongue.

— William Shakespeare

What About Other Mammals?

Dogs and cats are mammals that use their tongue in a number of ways. One way is to clean their fur or body. Their tongue tends to have a rough texture, which aids them in removing parasites and oils as well.

A dog’s tongue acts as a heat regulator. You will see a dog’s tongue hanging out of his or her mouth. The reason is the moisture on the tongue helps to cool the blood flow.

Fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians all have tongues, but alligators, crocodiles and gharials do not have tongues. Of course, that last group sure has plenty of teeth.


The tongue's many unique features are interesting. It is good to be aware of the possible problems that may occur, so take a look at it when you brush your teeth. Dentist encourage people to brush their tongue also to get rid of any bacteria, and this should be done twice daily.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Pamela Oglesby


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 07, 2020:

Hi MG,

I enjoyed the research I did to write this article. I'm glad you enjoyed reading and your comments are appreciated.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 07, 2020:

Pamela, you have put together another wonderful article with tons of information . The tongue is an intimate part of our body but so many of us do not give it the importance it deserves. It gives us the power of communication. Thank you for a knowledgeable article.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 24, 2020:

Hi Peggy,

I think btushing the tongue is healthy. Thanks so much for your comments.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 23, 2020:

The tongue acts as a powerful muscle. These are interesting facts that you have presented here. It is not surprising that dentists recommend brushing the tongue as well as teeth to combat bacteria, etc.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 05, 2020:

Hi Divika, I think most of don't give the tongue any thought but it actually tells us something about our health. I appreciate your comments.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 05, 2020:

Interesting I immediately looked at my tongue to see any of the unhealthy signs. I am fascinated by this information. It gives me more to know and learn of such tongue issues.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 20, 2018:

Patricia, I was acutally surprised at what I learned writing this article. I appreciate your comments. Angels are coming to your also.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 20, 2018:

Lots here I didn't know. We take it for granted but it really does play an important part in our lives. Marking this to refer to later. Once again, Angels are on the way this

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 03, 2018:

Rachel, I really learned a lot about the tongue when I did research for this article. I apprerciate your comments, and I am glad you found out some new things about the tongue.

I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving as well.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on November 02, 2018:

Hi Pamela, I never thought so much about the tongue before. Very interesting, though. I never knew that children and infants have more taste buds and that taste buds die and get replaced. Now if my or someone in my family has a different color on their tongue I can refer to your hub. Thanks for sharing this information.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 19, 2018:

Hi Aldene, Thank you for your comments.

Aldene Fredenburg from Southwestern New Hampshire on September 19, 2018:

Valuable information; thanks!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 18, 2018:

Hi Linda, Thank you so much for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 18, 2018:

Mykola, You may certainly be right about that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 17, 2018:

Your article contains some very interesting facts about the tongue, Pamela. Thanks for sharing them.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 17, 2018:

Hi Shauna, I think a lot of people just weren't taught as children, Yet I would imagine a dentist would tell a patient that brushing the tongue was important.

Thanks for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 17, 2018:

After I read a couple of interesting facts, and I decided the tongue would make a unique topic. I imagine your tongue to just fine.

Thanks Bill.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 17, 2018:

I always brush my tongue when I brush my teeth. When my ex-husband saw me doing that, he asked me what I was doing and why. Self-explanatory, isn't it? He started brushing his tongue after seeing me do it. How can someone go their entire life without brushing their tongue? Gross!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 17, 2018:

Okay, that was strangely fascinating! So many things I did not know. Now you have me looking at my tongue in a mirror. lol

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 17, 2018:

RTalloni, I'm glad you found this information useful, and I appreciate your comments.

RTalloni on September 16, 2018:

Hmmm, we were taught to keep it in as children but this proves it's definitely a good idea to stick it out once in a while! Thanks for the useful information.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 16, 2018:

Louise, I am glad you found this article interesting.

Thanks so much for your comments/

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 16, 2018:

Flourish, i was pretty surprised about some of the things I learned when researching the facts. I imagine you will see a healthy tongue in the mirror!

I appreciate your comments.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 16, 2018:

The tongue is indeed an amazing thing. This was very interesting to read, thankyou.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 16, 2018:

Fascinating facts. Now I’m going to look in the mirror and hope I don’t see some of the unhealthy signs.