Reasons for White Tongue, Remedies, and Preventative Measures

A white tongue is a condition in which the top of the tongue turns white and stays white for an extended period of time. Having bad breath, a hairy tongue, and irritation are also possible side effects. White tongue is not attractive, but it is harmless and usually only lasts a short time.
  • Overview
  • Consequences That Could Be At Play
  • Therapeutics and Attention
  • If You Feel Unwell, See a Doctor
Phrases Using the Term "White Tongue"

When your tongue is covered in a thick white film, a common symptom is that you have a "white tongue." Depending on the person, this coating may appear all over the tongue, just on the back, or in a few random spots. Some other symptoms include bad breath, redness of the face, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

One of the symptoms of white tongue is a condition known as "hairy tongue." Although it may look like hair, the fuzzy projections inside your mouth are actually taste buds called papillae.

A white tongue can develop gradually or appear suddenly due to irritation or an infection. White tongue has many possible causes, but it usually disappears after a few weeks. An anti-fungal mouthwash may also be helpful. However, if the whiteness of your tongue persists for more than a few weeks, or if you also experience pain or difficulties with eating and talking, you should seek medical attention.

Bacteria, debris (like food and sugar), and dead cells can get stuck between the papillae on your tongue, leading to a white appearance. The papillae, which look like strings, swell and can even become inflamed as they get bigger. The result is a white spot on the tongue.

Many medical issues can result in a white tongue, including:

  • Overgrowth of cells in the oral mucosa (leukoplakia) is a common condition. In this process, these cells join with the protein keratin (also found in hair) to create the distinctive white bump in the middle of your tongue. Irritation of the mouth and tongue from substances like alcohol and tobacco is a common cause of this condition. There isn't always an obvious reason why something happens. Leukoplakia isn't usually dangerous, but it can develop into mouth cancer if left untreated.
  • The mouth condition known as oral lichen planus is characterized by persistent inflammation and can last for years at a time. Your immune system (which normally protects you from bacteria and viruses) becomes dysfunctional, and this is the root cause. Don't go infecting the rest of the population with your illness.
  • Geographic tongue occurs when new skin is being formed on the tongue. Tender, red areas form when the top layer of your tongue sheds too quickly, making your tongue more susceptible to infections. Some of your tongue, meanwhile, may turn white from staying in its position for too long. No one should be allowed to pick up your geographical slang.
  • This yeast infection of the mouth, called oral thrush, is caused by the fungus Candida. Candida is a common oral fungus, but it can cause issues when it multiplies too rapidly.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis are bacterial infections that can be spread from person to person. White tongue is one of many symptoms of this serious condition.

If you want to know who is at the highest risk for developing white tongue, consider the following: Can a white tongue be inherited?

White tongue, also called oral thrush, is an infection that manifests as a white patch on the tongue. It is more common in people with certain health problems, substances, and habits. Consider the following list of potential dangers:

  • Being diabetic
  • Extreme Youth or Advanced Age Young children and infants are prone to developing oral thrush.
  • Taking antibiotics (which may lead to an oral yeast infection).
  • Getting insufficient fruit and vegetable intake (iron or vitamin B12) in one's diet. As can a diet high in processed and sugary foods and low in fiber.
  • Being susceptible due to a fever or compromised immunity
  • Alterations to the tongue caused by dentures or other means
  • Disregarding one's oral health
  • When you open your mouth to breathe
  • Because of dehydration, a medical condition, or a medication (like a muscle relaxant), you may have dry mouth.
  • Using any form of tobacco products, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco
  • Having more than one alcoholic drink per day
  • Currently undergoing treatment for cancer
  • Being hypothyroid (metabolic slowdown caused by an underactive thyroid gland).

When the tongue is pierced, does it turn white?

A white coating on the tongue is common after getting your tongue pierced, which you or your teen may have done recently. Antifungal mouthwashes, such as Nystatin (like Nystop®), can reduce this naturally occurring bacterial growth. A white ring of tissue may form on either side of your piercing, but this is normal for your tongue as it heals from an injury.

Where can I find out the signs of a white tongue?

There are a variety of possible causes for a white tongue, and it could be the solution to your problems. However, there are other possible manifestations.

Your papillae (the little bumps on your tongue) provide a perfect surface for food particles, plaque, and bacteria to accumulate and spread throughout your mouth. There's a high likelihood that this accumulation contributes to halitosis and other forms of oral malodor. Inadequate gum health (including gum disease) has been linked to a white tongue.

Perhaps your white tongue doesn't require medical attention. In most cases, it will clear up on its own after a couple of weeks. On the other hand, if it persists beyond that time frame or if you simply want to get rid of it as soon as possible, you may want to seek treatment. Common treatments for white tongue include:

  • If you have a hairy tongue, your doctor probably won't do anything about it. The emphasis will be placed on bolstering your immune system, rather than treating the underlying cause of your illness. Antiviral drugs like valacyclovir and famciclovir may be prescribed in unusual circumstances. It's also possible that they'll put something on your white spot to help (like podophyllin resin or retinoic acid).
  • Oral lichen planus (also known as a tongue rash) usually doesn't require any medical attention. However, there are cases where it can remain in the mouth for years. Steroid sprays and mouthwashes (pills dissolved in water) are two options your doctor may recommend to alleviate painful symptoms like burning or sore gums.
  • Oral thrush (a type of mouth fungus): If your doctor diagnoses oral thrush, he or she will likely prescribe antifungal drugs like Diflucan. These can be taken orally in the form of pills, or topically in the form of gels or liquids applied to oral patches. Numerous applications per day for a period of one to two weeks is typical.
  • Many white patches on the tongue (also known as geographic tongue because of its resemblance to a map outline) require no special treatment. You should stay away from anything, including food and drink, that makes your stomach hurt. Some discomfort may be alleviated by using a topical application for mouth fungus treatment. There is 0% chance that this condition will develop into cancer.
  • If syphilis is the cause of your white tongue, it will not clear up without treatment. Ignoring it can lead to permanent nerve damage and other health issues if not treated. With just one dose of penicillin, syphilis can be cured. Up to three injections may be required if you've had syphilis for more than a year.
  • If your doctor has warned you that you have a high risk of developing mouth cancer, he or she will likely recommend surgical removal of your white patch. Your surgeon may use a cryotherapy technique (freezing it with liquid nitrogen) or a scalpel or laser (albeit rarely). By removing some of your tongue's cells surgically, you can reduce the risk of cancer. You have the option of being put to sleep or given a local anesthetic for this procedure. In most cases, recovery time from this procedure is minimal.

I have a white tongue; what home remedies can I use?

When caught early, white tongue can be easily treated. Good oral hygiene is the cure for white tongue caused by plaque and tartar buildup. Some straightforward approaches to dealing with white tongue include:

  • Increasing water consumption to as much as eight glasses daily
  • If you use a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth, you won't damage your gums.
  • If you're worried about irritation, try switching to a fluoride toothpaste that doesn't contain detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Fluoride mouthwashing An antifungal mouthwash can be prescribed by your child's doctor if you notice white tongue.
  • You can get rid of the white film on your tongue by brushing it or using a tongue scraper. To use a teaspoon as a tongue scraper in its absence.
  • Drinking from a straw is a common practice when consuming cold beverages.
  • Avoiding tongue-irritating substances like alcoholic mouthwashes and cigarettes is important. Spicy, salty, acidic, or extremely hot foods and beverages should also be avoided.
  • If you're in pain, you can get over-the-counter medication.

How do I avoid getting a white coating on my tongue?

The dreaded white tongue can strike at any time. Good oral hygiene, however, can help reduce your risk. Every six months, you should visit the dentist for a checkup and a tongue cleaning. If you want to keep your teeth healthy, you should brush them at least twice a day. Daily flossing and an array of fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended for optimal health.

Consider quitting alcohol or tobacco use (or cutting back) if your doctor says your white tongue symptoms are serious. Appointments with the dentist or healthcare provider should be scheduled on a regular basis. As a result, the white spot on your skin is less likely to spread or develop into cancer.

Find out if you're allergic to certain foods or drinks, and get advice on the best medications from your doctor.

A white tongue is usually nothing to worry about and will go away soon. It's possible to see if the white tongue goes away on its own, depending on the severity of your symptoms. If the only symptom you have is a white tongue, you should be fine.

But you should see a doctor if your tongue hurts or if it starts to itch. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious health issues like infection or oral (mouth or tongue) cancer. Without treatment, severe cases of white tongue can spread infection throughout the mouth and body.

Get checked out by your doctor or dentist if your white tongue doesn't fade after a couple of weeks. If you are having trouble swallowing or speaking, or if your tongue hurts, you should get checked out. The issue can be resolved with the aid of your service provider. To rule out more serious causes, they can also be of assistance. If you have a compromised immune system or HIV, you should also schedule an appointment.

If you or your child have a white tongue, whom should I see?

If your tongue stays white for longer than a few weeks, you should see your dentist or healthcare provider. Numerous medical experts are available to assist you, such as:

  • Tongue scrapers are dental tools that your dentist can use to remove unwanted tongue biofilm. If you have a white tongue, they may also recommend medication.
  • Your primary care doctor can determine the cause of your white tongue, recommend treatment (if necessary), and advise you on the severity of your symptoms.
  • The white coating on your tongue can be treated by a variety of medications; just ask your pharmacist if they carry any. They may advise you to consult a medical professional.

From the Cleveland Clinic:

Maintaining regular dental checkups will allow your dentist to detect potential issues with your teeth and gums before they become serious. Even though a white tongue is usually harmless, if your tongue (or even just its appearance) is bothering you or if you are experiencing any pain, you should see your dentist or provider. As a result, potential health problems can be identified and treated before they worsen.

An MD from Cleveland Clinic looked over this on 6/22/2020.


  • Institution for the Prevention of Disease Candida (https://www cdc gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/thrush/) Diseases affecting the respiratory tract, intestines, and digestive system (https://www cdc gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/thrush/) Retrieved on: 6/4/2020
  • Official Professional Edition of the Merck Manual Alterations to the Color of the Tongue and Other Symptoms (https://www merckmanuals com/professional/dental-disorders/lip-and-tongue-disorders/tongue-discoloration-and-other-changes query=leukoplakia) Available from: 6/04/2020
  • Familydoctor org Plane lichen (https://familydoctor org/condition/lichen-planus/) This page accessed on: 6/4/2020
  • Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Cancer of the Mouth, Throat, and/or Voice Box (https://www cancer org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging html) Currently Active as of 6/04/2020

The Cleveland Clinic is a private, not-for-profit medical research and treatment facility. Having advertisements on our site is a great way to help fund our cause. The Cleveland Clinic does not provide an endorsement for any non-Cleveland Clinic services or goods. Policy

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