John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press



Don’t Want Implants? Hopeless Teeth Can be Saved

In traditional Chinese medicine, some doctors can diagnose an issue just by looking at the patterns and colors on the tongue. Medical doctors and dentists can also tell a lot about your health by looking at your mouth and tongue.

What if you notice your tongue has a white spots? It could be tongue plaque. Your tongue naturally cleans itself and renews the cells on the surface to get rid of bacteria, dead cells, and debris. But when someone has tongue plaque, that renewal doesn't happen and your tongue gets covered in a white film. This can happen with age, dry mouth, tobacco and alcohol use, and also with fever or illness. You can clean off tongue plaque by scraping your tongue and using mouthwash.

There are a few other conditions that can cause white spots on your tongue. If you see separate white spots on your tongue, it could be a sign of a superficial fungal infection, an inflammatory condition, or even early signs of tongue cancer. It would be best if you see your dentist or doctor when you suspect something is wrong. Another reason for having white coating on your tongue, is if you've been on antibiotics for a while. Prolonged antiobotic therapy could lead to a yeast infection in your mouth that turns your tongue white. For this reason, doctors will also encourage you take probiotics to replenish the “good” bacteria in your intestines when you are undergoing antibiotic therapy.

A healthy tongue should be pink and covered with small, uniform papillae bumps. When you're brushing your teeth, it's a good idea to brush your tongue to get rid of any bacteria that might be lingering on the surface. A tongue scraper also does the same thing and is a handy tool to have. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you how to do this if you're not sure.

Another side effect of having plaque on your tongue would be bad breath which has other causes. So if you are plagued by bad breath, it could be periodontal (gum) disease. In this disease, bacteria induces a chronic inflammatory process which, over time, results in loss of bone around the roots of the teeth. This loss of bone for the most part symptom-free and painless until the advanced stages when white coating on the tongue appears, along with bad breath and loose teeth. Untreated, periodontal disease is associated with systemic condition such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease. So if you see white spots or cream-colored coating or any lesions on your tongue, see your dentist or physician for diagnosis and treatment.

There appears to be more and more medical experiments and studies delving into what in Chinese medicine makes it work, how it works, and why it works. Maybe Chinese medicine has more to contribute to western medical science than what is known in the public sector.


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