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Tongue Symptoms of Vitamin Deficiencies

author image Cheryl Orr
Cheryl Orr is a board-certified anesthesiologist who began writing professionally in 2010. She has been published in "Anesthesiology" and the "Journal of Clinical Anesthesia." She authored "General Anesthesia for Trauma" in the reference text "TRAUMA: Emergency Resuscitation, Perioperative Anesthesia, Surgical Management," published in 2007. Orr earned her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Tongue Symptoms of Vitamin Deficiencies
The tongue gives valuable clues to certain vitamin deficiencies. Photo Credit Paul Burns/Photodisc/Getty Images

The muscular tongue functions in chewing, tasting and swallowing. Because of its nearly continuous use throughout the day, abnormalities become obvious very quickly, making the tongue a helpful marker of disease.

If your tongue shows signs or symptoms of a vitamin deficiency, testing will most often reveal one of the B vitamins as the culprit, explains MedlinePlus. Less commonly, levels of other vitamins that are low also cause changes of your oral cavity, including the tongue.


Loss of the tiny, fingerlike projection on the tongue -- the papillae -- develops after an ongoing deficiency of any of several members of the B vitamin family, explains "American Family Physician," in its March 2010 issue. Folate, vitamin B12 and niacin can all claim responsibility for the abnormally smoothed tongue called "atrophic glossitis," depending on your clinical situation. If you are vegan or have certain digestive system illnesses such as Crohn's disease, you risk a vitamin B12 deficit. Alcoholics lack niacin, another B vitamin that leads to glossitis. A dark red discoloration of the tongue accompanies B vitamin induced glossitis. Replacing the missing vitamin allows rapid regrowth of the papillae.

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Deep fissures or grooves on the surface of your tongue may point to vitamin A as a possible nutritional deficiency says the "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics." Uncommon in the United States, low vitamin A levels more commonly cause eye problems such as trouble with night vision and a thickened cornea, explains "The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library." If you have a disorder such as celiac sprue, cirrhosis or cystic fibrosis, your absorption of vitamin A may be impaired, leading to a deficiency.


Severe deficits of vitamin C, as in scurvy, cause ulcers of the tongue. The lips, inside of the cheeks and throat also develop painful ulceration, according to "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics." Scurvy ulcers may bleed or be covered by a thick grey membrane.

Deficiency of niacin -- vitamin B3 -- causes redness of the tongue and pain throughout the mouth before progressing to ulceration, according to "The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library." The ulcers of a niacin deficit start under the tongue and on the lower lip, then progress to the rest of the mouth. In advanced niacin deficiency, the ulcers, like those of scurvy can bleed and cause significant pain.

Burning and Tingling

Any B vitamin deficiency, but especially B12, may also lead to burning and tingling of your tongue, says the "American Family Physician."

Because burning and all of the tongue symptoms of vitamin deficiencies potentially have other causes, you should always seek the advice of a physician when new or troubling health issues arise. Self-diagnosis using information on the Internet leads to dangerous delays in treatment.

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