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Can't get to the doctor? No problem, just stick out your tongue

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers in India have designed a way to find out if someone is sick just by sticking out their tongue. But you don't have to be in the doctor's office to find out. A group of technical engineers have designed a digital tongue analysis software to help people in remote areas who may not have access to a physician. What can your tongue tell a doctor about your health?


And if that isn't cool enough, the researchers say next they'll be adding eye images to their repertoire of digital images to help diagnose even more diseases. Currently, the system allows for diagnosis of fourteen distinct health conditions that are linked to changes in the tongue that include some of the following.


If your tongue has furrows that go front to back, you just might need to see a doctor for syphilis treatment. Another change seen with the sexually transmitted disease is mucous patches on the tongue.

Crohn's disease or colitis

Tongue ulcers could be a sign of Crohn's disease or colitis, though there are a number of other health conditions that can cause ulcers of the tongue. Karthik Ramamurthy of the Department of Information Technology, Rajalakshmi Engineering College, in Chennai, India, and colleagues, have trained a neural network that can identify diseases based on the tongue's appearance that is used in combination with answered questions about a person's symptoms.

Black tongue

Maybe your tongue has suddenly, or not so suddenly, turned black. The causes can be benign and as simple as poor oral hygiene, antibiotic use or it might be more serious like cancer or HIV. The cause is generally thought to be from an overgrowth of fungus that stems from alteration in the bacteria of the mouth.

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Red beefy tongue

A red, beefy tongue could mean you have a vitamin B or iron deficiency or anemia.

White patches on the tongue

If your tongue has white patches it could be a sign of of oral cancer that is commonly caused by smoking. Mild white patches could be mistaken for thrust. Leukoplakia, shown in the image below tend to bleed. Sometimes the patches go away on their own but a doctor may want to do a biopsy. If cancer is confirmed, the patch or patches must be removed.

Fissures of the tongue

Tongue fissures can be painful and stem from several different systemic causes including injury from biting, brushing or chewing or grinding of the teeth. Excessive dry mouth can also causes furrows on the tongue that can burn when you eat. Other causes include reactions from medications and chewing tobacco. Glossitis is a benign condition that simply means inflammation of the tongue. Another name might be "geographic tongue".

Digital tongue analysis is a way to help people who live in remote areas who cannot get to the doctor. The tongue can tell us much about what is going on inside the body. If you notice any changes in your mouth, tongue or oral cavity, seek a doctor's advice. A healthy looking tongue usually means your body is healthy. Changes in how your tongue looks or feels could signal disease, but not always.


Inderscience publishers:
Karthik, R., Menaka, R., Kulkarni, S. and Deshpande, R. (2014) 'Virtual doctor: an artificial medical diagnostic system based on hard and soft inputs', Int. J. Biomedical Engineering and Technology, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp.329-342.