Doctor warns ‘scalloped tongue’ may be sign of worrying underlying condition

By Staff 7 Min Read

The appearance of your tongue can say a lot about your health, and according to a doctor you shouldn’t ignore the signs if it starts to have a ‘scalloped’ appearance

Our tongues can tell us quite a lot about our health.

Unless you spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, you might not pay much attention to what your tongue looks like – unless it hurts. But the fact is, your tongue can tell you a lot about your health, although you might not have realised it.

And we’re not just talking about the more obvious white tongue, which can be a sign of anaemia, scarlet fever, leukoplakia, mouth ulcers or oral thrush. According to a doctor, you should pay special attention to the sides of your tongue – in particular to see whether you have a scalloped tongue, also known as crenated tongue, piecrust tongue, or lingua indenta.

According to Dr Neeraj Panchal, chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, this occurs when there is “scalloping or indentation of the sides of the tongue”. Speaking to HuffPost, he explained this happens when the tongue presses against the teeth over a period of time – something which usually occurs if there’s swelling.

There are several different reasons this might be happening. For example, it might mean you have a vitamin deficiency. According to Dr Soroush Zaghi, an ear, nose and throat doctor and sleep surgeon based in Los Angeles, having a vitamin B deficiency (such as B12, B9 and B2) can lead to a swollen gum, leading to a “scalloped appearance” as your tongue presses against your teeth.

It could also mean you’re clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, which often occur due to stress or anxiety.

According to Zaghri, doing this over time can lead to a scalloped appearance because the tongue has been pressed too hard against the teeth frequently. A swollen tongue may also be a sign you’re dehydrated, as inadequate fluid intake can cause tissue in the body to swell, according to Zaghri.

If you have scalloped edges on your tongue you might also be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder where your breathing is disrupted through the night. Someone who has this might also feel more sleepy during the daytime.

But it can also cause a scalloped tongue because OSA is often associated with limited tongue space. If left untreated, OSA can have serious health implications – leading to cardiovascular problems.

According to Zaghri, it could also be a sign of disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your lower jawbone to the skull. This can cause jaw pain, earaches, difficulty opening or closing the mouth – but it can also reduce the space for the tongue.

It is also linked to hypothyroidism, which is a condition where your body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, causing the tongue to smell. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight gain and thinning hair.

It’s important to remember that having a scalloped tongue in itself isn’t generally harmful – but it could be a sign of an underlying health issue.

According to Zaghri, you should make an appointment with a GP if the scalloped appearance persists over time. You should also talk to a doctor if you have developed sore spots on the tongue, or you have other symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing or trouble sleeping.

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