Posted by: Scott Stewart, MSAc., Dipl.Ac., LAc.
Tongue diagnosis is an important diagnostic feature in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), because it gives the practitioner vital information about what’s going on inside the patient’s body, or in other words the functional activity as related to the organs. When morphological changes are present on the tongue they represent physiological and pathological changes within the body in terms of fluid pathology, thermal variations between hot & cold, energy levels, Qi & blood, and the severity of illness or disease. These manifest as changes in tongue vitality, shape, size, color, coating, papillae, and movement. Below I will describe the significance of one of the most common tongue features seen in Western patients - glossitis or swollen tongue (with teeth marks).
Swollen with teeth marks (scalloped)
In TCM, a swollen tongue is usually accompanied with teeth marks on the sides of the tongue, also referred to as a scalloped tongue. This pathological manifestation is associated with Spleen deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency, and Spleen Yang deficiency with an accumulation of dampness.
It’s very common in Western patients to see Spleen deficiency, which can be caused by an improper diet, eating fast foods, fried and greasy foods, cold foods and drinks, and worrying / overthinking; all of which tax the Spleen and cause a reduction in its functional capacity of transformation & transportation.
The importance of this functional role can be seen in the Spleen’s ability to work with the Stomach to transform nutrients from food into energy, transport those nutrients to other organs and tissues of the body in the form of nourishment, and finally, to transport waste downward to be eliminated. When this metabolic mechanism is disrupted, dampness (fluid) that should have been eliminated begins to accumulate, and is reflected in a swollen image of the tongue.
In terms of biomedicine, glossitis can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies such as; iron, folate and B12 depending on the color of the tongue, although, nutritional deficiencies are not diagnosed by tongue analysis; further testing is needed, like a blood test.
Read more about the Spleen in TCM
Return to blog