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.
Glossitis and Inflammation
Loss of the tiny, fingerlike projection on the tongue, called papillae, develops after an ongoing deficiency of any of several members of the B vitamin family. 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 beefy red tongue accompanies B vitamin induced glossitis. Replacing the missing vitamin allows rapid regrowth of the papillae.
According to The Institute of Medicine, recommended daily intake of folate is 400 micrograms. Sources of folate include whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Vitamin B12 is found in fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. Recommended daily intake for B12 is 2.4 micrograms. According to MayoClinic, niacin is found in meat, yeast and milk, with recommended daily intake of 14 to 16 milligrams.
Fissures or Grooves
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. Adults need 700 to 900 micrograms of vitamin A daily, found in meat, dairy, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables, according to National Institutes of Health.
Tongue Ulcer Symptoms
Severe deficits of vitamin C, as in scurvy, cause tongue ulcers. 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. According to MayoClinic, adults need 65 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day, found in many fruits and vegetables.
Deficiency of niacin, or 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, according to 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.
- MedlinePlus: Tongue Problems
- "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th edition"; Robert M. Kliegman, M.D., editor; 2007
- The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: Niacin
- The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: Vitamin A
- American Family Physician: Common Tongue Conditions in Primary Care"
- Harvard School of Public Health: Three of the B Vitamins: Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12
- MayoClinic.com: Niacin
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin A
- MayoClinic.com: Is It Possible to Take Too Much Vitamin C?