Definition of white tongue
White tongue is a coating of debris, bacteria and dead cells on your tongue that makes it look white. Although the appearance of white tongue may be alarming, the condition is usually harmless and temporary. However, white tongue can be an indication of some serious conditions, ranging from infection to a precancerous condition.
If you’re concerned about a white coating or white spots on your tongue, contact your doctor or dentist.
Causes of white tongue
White tongue is the result of inflammation of the finger-like projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue. The appearance of a white coating is caused by debris, bacteria and dead cells getting lodged between the inflamed papillae.
Causes of inflammation include:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive alcohol use
Conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include:
- Certain medications
- Geographic tongue (a condition that gives your tongue a map-like appearance)
- Leukoplakia (may be precancerous)
- Oral lichen planus (a chronic, autoimmune disorder)
- Oral thrush (a yeast infection, also known as candidiasis)
- Syphilis (a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact)
When to see a doctor
White tongue is generally harmless, and may be helped by brushing your tongue with a tongue scraper and drinking plenty of water.
Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if:
- You’re concerned about changes in your tongue
- Your tongue hurts
- Your white tongue persists for longer than two weeks