What the tongue says about one’s general health was broached by pop star Cher shortly after Miley Cyrus’ tongue-wagging performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.
In an interview with USA Today last month, the 67-year-old Cher critiqued the stage performance from Cyrus, 20, saying “Chick, don’t stick your tongue out if it’s coated.”
The wagging tongue has become the trademarked flourish of the young pop singer and former child television star. But what does Cyrus’ extended tongue say about her health?
“When we see anything other than that nice pinkish-red tongue with a little saliva—rather than being coated—a little alarm bell goes off in our heads that says we should be looking at different things,” Mark Wolff, a professor at the New York University College of Dentistry, told ABC News. A greyish-whitish coating on the tongue may indicate the presence of fungus, which appears following a regimen of antibiotics for an illness.
Wolff said the coating is fairly commonplace, something he sees in patients a few times per month. Dentists typically examine the tongue during exams to check for ulcers or any changes in color indicative of cancer. However, the tongue may also show signs of minor health ailments, such as dehydration or vitamin deficiencies. A dry, blistered, and red tongue may indicate a problem producing saliva, which can be caused by using antihistamines or hypertension drugs.
Although not indicative of general health, Wolff told ABC News that Cyrus’ ability to extend her tongue so far indicates a lack of a muscle on the underside that attaches to the bottom of the mouth. “Children and adults who have a little muscle that attaches to the very front of the tongue couldn’t spit out their tongue like that if they tried.”
The organ is a muscular hydrostat jutting from the mouths of most vertebrate animals, a tool used for mastication of food. The tongue is also the primary organ for the sense of taste, covered with taste buds and papillae. The tongue also provides animals with a natural means of cleaning one’s teeth and, in humans, a tool for speech.
Below is a video roundup of Cyrus' tongue-wagging performance last month at the MTV Video Music Awards: