Strawberry tongue

It is a strange fact that the colour of your tongue tells a lot about your general and dental health. The human tongue is pinkish and covered with a layer of nodules known as the papillae. Four types of papillae are present on the human tongue, the filiform, fungiform, vallate, and foliate papillae. These papillae, except the filiform, play an important role in taste perception. This is the reason that any pathology of the tongue also perturbs taste perception.

Inflammation of the Tongue

In certain conditions, the tongue gets inflamed due to certain dental and medical reasons.This not only manifests as alteration in the structure and physiology of the tongue, but can cause a change in colour, depending upon the pathology. Dental factors include ill-fitting dentures, oral candidiasis, or viral infections; medical reasons include various autoimmune disorders, systemic infections, metabolic deficiencies, and immunosuppressive conditions. One of the most common inflammatory conditions of the tongue is glossitis, which clinically appears as pain and depapillation of the tongue

Strawberry Tongue

In certain conditions, the fungiform papillae of the tongue get inflamed and appear dark red in colour, giving the characteristic appearance of a strawberry, hence the name “strawberry tongue.” Although the name of this physical condition sounds interesting, it signifies an underlying medical condition that must be immediately treated.

This condition should be distinguished from glossitis, characterised by a smooth tongue due to depapillation.In strawberry tongue, the papillae are present, but appear red due to inflammation. Parents should, however, check other causes of red coloured tongue, such as eating a Popsicle or candy, before rushing to the doctor in suspicion of strawberry tongue.

Causes of Strawberry Tongue

Strawberry tongue is generally reflective of a systemic problem,not an oral pathological condition. Following causative factors have been identified:

  • Scarlet Fever: this is a childhood bacterial pathology that occurs as a result of streptococcal infection, of which strawberry tongue is a characteristic finding apart from other symptoms. The strawberry colour of the tongue converts to a red or yellowish hue after three to five days
  • Toxic Shock Syndrome: this is a severe and potentially life threatening condition caused by certain gram negative bacteria. Symptoms, in addition to a strawberry coloured tongue, includehypotension, rashes, vomiting and severe fever.
  • Kawasaki Syndrome: this is a rare but life threatening autoimmune disease that effects the cardiac vasculature. Prominent oral symptoms include a strawberry tongue. This condition mainly occurs in children.


Other Conditions That May Cause Strawberry Tongue

Vitamin deficiency can also present as a red coloured tongue. Similarly, another clinical scenario, in which white patches with red edges appear on the tongue, is known as the Geographic tongue. Any injury to the tongue may cause it to turn red.

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Role of Dentist in Diagnosis of Strawberry Tongue

Dentist are usually the first to diagnose any condition pertaining to the tongue or oral cavity during routine dental examinations. Oral medical specialists, oral pathologists and maxillofacial surgeons, are trained in diagnosis and management of all oral and dental conditions.

Treatment of Strawberry Tongue

Treatment of strawberry tongue involves the diagnosis of the underlying medical or dental condition. Afterwards, immediate recovery in symptoms can be observed as soon as the causative factor is eliminated, such as any dietary vitamin deficiency. However, regeneration of the papillae and taste perception may take longer in certain cases. Parents should consider taking their child to their general physician or dentist should signs of an inflamed and red tongue persist beyond two to three days.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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