The human tongue is an amazing thing. It has thousands of invisible taste buds that make food a pleasure, it allows you to communicate with your fellow humans, and if you’re lucky, it gives you the opportunity to passionately kiss a romantic partner.

It can also teach you things about your health, including particular infections, diseases, and deficiencies you may have. That’s why it’s good to understand what a healthy tongue looks like, and in this article, we’ll show you exactly what that is.

A healthy tongue

A healthy (or normal) tongue is pink and covered with small bumps known as papillae. The shade of pink can vary (provided it’s not red), and the bumps should cover a good majority of the upper surface. These bumps are also on the underside of a tongue, but maybe less easy to spot.

Healthy tongue pictures

Healthy Tongue 1

Healthy Tongue 2

Healthy Tongue 3

An unhealthy tongue

If your tongue is a different colour than pink, or has large patches of white, brown, black, or another colour, this might indicate a specific health issue. Similarly, if you have large bumps or no bumps at all, you may also want to speak to a doctor.

Unhealthy tongue pictures

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a condition where a fungus (candida albicans) grows on the tongue. It’s a fairly easy condition to spot because there’s usually large white patches that look “furry.”

Oral Thrush

Possible signs of oral thrush

Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the mucous membranes in your mouth. It can appear as white or red lacy patches, swollen tissue, or open sores. You might also experience discomfort such as burning.

Oral Lichen Planus

Possible signs of oral lichen planus


Leukoplakia are thick, white patches on your tongue, and sometimes the inside of your mouth. They can appear on the top or underside, and vary in size and intensity. They are thought to be caused by tobacco or alcohol, but can also be early signs of cancer.


Possible signs of leukoplakia. Image from Wiley Online Library

Vitamin B deficiency

A red tongue can mean a variety of things, one of which is a lack of vitamin B deficiencies, particularly folic acid and (B-9) and cobalamin (B-12).

Vitamin B Deficient

Possible signs of vitamin B deficiency. Image from BMC Oral Health

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that can develop in people with strep throat. It’s most common in children from five to fifteen, and is a serious condition that requires medical treatment. It often shows as red or bright pink on the tongue, but can also be a regular pink. Bumps also appear on the tongue, which can resemble the surface of a strawberry.

Scarlet Fever

Possible signs of scarlet fever

Kawasaki disease

As with scarlet fever, Kawasaki disease shows as red or bright pink, with bumps on the tongue that can make it look like a strawberry. This isn’t serious, but you should talk to a doctor because there’s risk of heart issues if left untreated.

Kawasaki Disease

Possible signs of Kawasaki disease. Image from Everyday Health

Yellow tongue

A yellow tongue can be caused by a variety of issues, including lifestyle habits like smoking, certain vitamins, psoriasis, and jaundice. This is usually nothing to worry about, but again, speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Yellow Tongue

Possible signs of yellow tongue

Hairy tongue

A hairy tongue can be caused by a build-up of dead skin cells that contain taste buds. It usually looks like a brown or black patch that sits in the centre of the tongue. It’s a harmless condition that can be caused by tobacco and certain antibiotics and can be fixed by brushing the tongue itself.

Possible signs of a hairy tongue