The Tongue and Bad Breath

The tongue has a topography like a map. Differences in this topography can influence the likelihood and degree of bad breath. Generally, the rougher one’s tongue, the more likely they are to have a bad breath problem. Some tongues have deep grooves or fissures. Fissured tongue tends to lead to bad breath as fissures provide an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.

Some tongues have papillae (the fibers on the top surface of the tongue) that are slightly longer than the norm. This is known as hairy tongue. The longer the papillae, the rougher the appearance of the tongue and the more places there are for bad-breath-related bacteria to hide.

Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition characterized by large white patches on the tongue often encircled by red borders. It is called “geographic” because these patches tend to move locations over time. Geographic tongue can be triggered by a reaction to food, stress, illness, certain chemicals and hormonal surges. Generally the condition is painless. Some foods can irritate geographic tongue and cause a stinging sensation — these include foods that are acidic, spicy, sour or sweet.

 Some typical tongue types:

Picture of a Healthy TongueHealthy Tongue

Note the slight glistening due to the presence of adequate saliva and the nice pink color.

Topography: Smooth.



Picture of a yellow coated tongueCoated Tongue (yellow coating

Yellow coating gets darker in the back showing increase in the production of sulfur compounds.

Topography: Slight fissure in the middle.



A picture of a dry, coated tongueDry Coated Tongue

Topography: Random fissures





A picture of a white coated tongueCoated Tongue (white coating)

Topography: Deep median fissure





A picture of a black hairy tongueBlack Hairy Tongue

Occurs when papillae (finger-like projections on the surface of the tongue) fail to exfoliate normally. As papilla lengthen they collect debris and bacteria, producing the characteristic dark “furry” appearance. Can be produced by overuse of antibiotics.



A picture of a geographic tongueGeographic Tongue

Characterized by large white patches on the tongue often encircled by red borders. It is called “geographic” because these patches tend to move locations over time. It can be triggered by a reaction to food, stress or certain toothpaste and mouthwash ingredients (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Alcohol, etc.) Generally the condition is painless.



Dr. Katz Product Tip:

People who have geographic tongue have found relief by applying TheraBreath Toothpaste directly to their tongue. It contains aloe vera which soothes tongue irritation. For more severe conditions of geographic tongue you may want to try TheraBreath PLUS Toothpaste which also contains zinc gluconate which is known to help soothe this condition. Finally, be careful not to scrape too hard.

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