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White Tongue: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Medically reviewed by Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc · Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Feb 10, 2022

White Tongue: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

A white tongue is usually one of the common symptoms for certain health conditions. 

When you see the entire surface of your tongue coated by a thick white film or white patches, that may be an indication of a health issue. Usually, it is harmless and very rarely indicates any health major condition. Along with thick while film on the tongue, you may also notice bad breath, bad taste, and redness.

This condition might occur along with a related symptom called the hairy tongue. However, the thick fur-like coating is not actually hair, it is papillae – small bumps that contain your taste buds. 

The whiteness on your tongue can build up over time or may suddenly develop if you irritate your tongue or when your tongue gets an infection.

Symptoms of White Tongue

Symptoms of white tongue may occur with other symptoms. It can vary depending on your health and the underlying health condition. Symptoms that often accompany white tongue  are as follows:

  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Swollen, enlarged, or bloated tongue
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Swollen gums
  • Appetite loss
  • Change in texture of tongue
  • Oral rash, blisters, ulcers, or sores
  • Vomiting
  • Burning sensation
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pain
  • Excessive salivation

Causes of White Tongue

White tongue can be the result of overgrowth and swelling of papillae on your tongue. The whiteness of your tongue can be caused by debris, dead cells, and bacteria building up between the enlarged and inflamed papillae.

Causes of papillae inflammation or hypertrophy are:

  • Oral thrush
  • Syphilis
  • Certain medications
  • Leukoplakia
  • Oral lichen planus
  • Geographic tongue
  • Immunosuppression caused by such diseases as HIV/AIDS
  • Tongue cancer
  • Mouth cancer

Risk Factors for White Tongue

Certain habits, health issues, and substances can put you at risk of developing this condition. The following are certain aspects that can increase your risk of developing white tongue or oral thrush:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Unhealthy diet or diet that does not contain iron or vitamin B12
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • A fever or a weak immune system
  • Antibiotics usage
  • Having diabetes
  • Being very young or very old. Oral thrush is mostly common in infants and babies.
  • Daily alcohol consumption
  • Wearing dentures or damaging your tongue with sharp objects
  • Having hypothyroidism
  • Breathing through your mouth
  • Being dehydrated, having a dry mouth caused by a medical condition or by using medications (like muscle relaxers)
  • Undergoing cancer treatments

Diagnosis of White Tongue

The white tongue usually goes away within a few days or weeks. If it lasts longer, you should visit the dentist’s clinic and get it checked.

In the clinic, the doctor will check your tongue and ask a few questions related to your health and lifestyle. Looking at your condition your doctor will suggest treatment or medication.

Treatment for White Tongue

Usually, you do not need any treatment for the white tongue as it goes away within a few weeks. But, you may need some medication or treatment if it lasts more than a few weeks. Your doctor will recommend treatment and prescribe medicines depending on the symptoms of the white-coated tongue. Your doctor may suggest treatments if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Tongue rash: You don’t need any treatment for this condition. However, you may need treatment if the condition lasts for a few years. Your doctor may prescribe steroid sprays or mouthwashes to treat sore gums and burning.
  • Hairy tongue: Your doctor may not directly treat your hairy tongue. Instead, your doctor might suggest treatment that will improve your weak immune system. Rarely, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs for this condition.
  • White patches: White patches or geographic tongue have no special treatments. It resolves on its own in a few days or weeks. In that period, avoid food or drinks that cause pain and discomfort. 
  • Syphilis: If syphilis is the reason for a white tongue, you need proper medication and medical attention to resolve this issue. If left untreated, it can damage your nervous system and cause serious long-term health conditions.
  • Mouth fungus: Your doctor may prescribe antifungal medications if you have a mouth fungus or oral thrush. Ensure you use antifungal medicines after your doctor’s suggestion.
  • Mouth cancer: If your doctor tells you that you are at a higher risk of developing mouth cancer, your doctor may recommend removing the white film with surgery. Your doctor will either use a scalpel or laser. Rarely, your doctor will use a method called cryotherapy. This therapy ensures that your tongue cells do not turn cancerous.

Lifestyle Changes

Keep in mind that you may not always be able to prevent white tongue. However, the following are a few tips that you can try to reduce the possibilities of getting this condition. 

The answer is to maintain your oral hygiene and you can do that by:

  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Using a soft-bristled brush
  • Using a fluoride mouthwash daily
  • Choose a fluoride toothpaste
  • Brushing your teeth twice a day

Other tips that you can follow:

  • Seeing your dentist every six months for a routine checkup.
  • Using a straw when having cold drinks.
  • Avoiding tongue irritants like alcohol mouthwashes and cigarettes. Also avoiding food and drinks that are spicy, salty, acidic, or very hot in temperature.
  • Eating a varied diet that contains lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Drinking more water, up to eight glasses a day.
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers if you have discomfort.
  • Brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper to remove the white coating. If you don’t have a tongue scraper, you can turn over a teaspoon.
  • If you are wearing dentures, make sure to clean them every day and give your gums time to rest by removing your dentures at night.

Home Remedies

Here are a few home remedies that can help restore your oral health and may prevent white tongue:

  • Yoghurt: Probiotic yoghurt contains good or healthy bacteria that are beneficial for your oral and overall health. The good bacteria in yoghurt may also help to stop the growth of Candida. And it can restore the proper balance of good and bacteria in the mouth.
  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice is said to have antifungal and antiseptic properties that can fight against the fungus that causes thrush and white patches. A 2009 study found lemon juice to be more effective for oral thrush than gentian violet in HIV patients. However, it needs more research to confirm the evidence.
  • Oregano oil: Oregano oil contains antifungal and antimicrobial properties that can help you in several ways. According to the Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, USA, doctors found that oregano oil was effective against Candida albicans. This research was done on mice and therefore this study needs further research.
  • Honey: Honey contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can kill bacteria causing bleeding gums. Apply honey on your gums regularly to treat bleeding gums.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory abilities. According to a 2010 study, curcumin had antifungal properties that can fight against Albicans and non-Albicans species of Candida when combined with piperine.

Learn more about Oral Health Issues here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc

Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Feb 10, 2022

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