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White Tongue – 5 Common Causes, Treatment & When To See The Doctor

white tongue

A white tongue is a typical symptom of having a thick white coating covering your tongue. This coating may completely cover the surface of your tongue, the back portion of your tongue, or appear in patches. Additionally, you may experience a terrible taste in your mouth, unpleasant breath, or redness.

Occasionally, white tongue occurs in conjunction with a related symptom known as hairy tongue. However, the thick furry layer you perceive is not hair; it is instead your papillae – little bumps that house your taste buds.

White tongue can develop over time or it might appear quickly as a result of irritation or infection. White tongue can be caused by a variety of different factors, but it normally resolves within a few weeks. Anti-fungal mouthwash can also be used. However, if your white tongue persists for more than a few weeks — or if you experience pain or difficulty eating or speaking — you should seek diagnosis and treatment from your doctor.

Causes of White Tongue

The white tongue is caused by excessive development and swelling of the fingerlike projections (papillae) on the surface of the tongue. The white coating appears as a result of debris, germs, and dead cells become trapped between the swollen and occasionally inflamed papillae.

1. Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of a white tongue. In an uncared-for mouth, small bumps on the tongue called papillae can swell and become inflamed.

Between these papillae, a variety of germs, debris, food particles, and dead cells can become trapped. As the particles accumulate, the tongue appears white.

2. Oral Lichen Planus

Oral lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that affects the mouth and results in the appearance of thick, white patches of skin in the mouth and tongue.

These white spots may emerge in conjunction with other symptoms such as ulcers or sore cheeks and gums.

3. Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia is a condition characterized by an abnormal proliferation of cells in the mouth lining. These cells generate a white elevated patch on your tongue when combined with the protein keratin (present in your hair).

In many situations, this condition is caused by irritation of the mouth and tongue caused by drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. Occasionally, there is no evident cause. Leukoplakia is normally harmless, but it can develop into malignancy (mouth cancer) years or even decades after it initially manifests.

4. Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue occurs as the skin on your tongue regenerates. On your tongue, portions of the upper layer of skin shed prematurely, creating painful red spots that frequently become infected. Meanwhile, some sections of your tongue remain static for an extended period of time and turn white. You cannot transmit geographic tongue to another person.

5. Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the mouth. It is caused by candida which is naturally found in the mouth but can become an issue when it multiplies excessively.

Other causes of white tongue include:

  1. Dry mouth
  2. Dehydration
  3. Smoking or other oral tobacco use
  4. Alcohol use (excessive)
  5. Mouth breathing
  6. Low roughage diet (eating mostly soft or mashed foods)
  7. Mechanical irritation from sharp tooth edges or dental appliances
  8. Fever

Prevention of White Tongue

Occasionally, you cannot avoid developing white tongue. However, you can help prevent it by maintaining proper oral hygiene. Every six months, visit your dentist for a checkup and tongue cleaning. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day. Floss once a day and eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

If your dentist indicates that your white tongue symptoms are severe, you may want to consider giving up alcohol or tobacco (or using less of either). Make routine follow-up appointments with your dentist or healthcare provider. This will assist in preventing your white patch from growing or becoming cancerous.

Additionally, your dentist can assist you in determining whether you have a food or drink allergy and in determining which medications are right for you.

When To See The Doctor

The majority of the time, if you have a white tongue, it will go away on its own.

Patients should see a doctor if the symptoms do not improve with basic oral hygiene or occur in conjunction with other health issues.

Treatment of White Tongue

A white tongue as a result of a specific condition may require specialized medical care.

Oral thrush is treated for 1 to 2 weeks using antifungal medications, most frequently in the form of an oral drop.

If oral lichen planus is severe, it may be treated with corticosteroids, but in many situations, it is just monitored by a physician or dentist.

Also, the leukoplakia will be followed by a healthcare practitioner to ensure that it does not worsen.

The antibiotic penicillin is used to treat syphilis because it kills the germs that cause the condition. Eliminating oral irritants such as alcohol and tobacco may assist in clearing up the white patches.


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