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White Tongue - Causes, Symptoms, Risk, Treatment and Prevention

Published on May 10, 2022   -  4 min read


What does a white tongue indicate? Does it mean you are sick? Read the article to know the reasons and management.


What Is a White Tongue?

A white tongue is a term used to describe a tongue that has a white to grayish coat on it. The coating may be seen along the entire tongue surface or appear in patches. It is usually a harmless condition. However, very rarely, it may suggest a serious condition like an infection or cancer. Hence, it is always recommended to look for other associated symptoms and take an opinion from the doctor if the coating remains the same or gets exaggerated in a couple of weeks.

What Are the Causes of White Tongue?

White tongue can occur for many reasons, and the treatment also varies accordingly. The common causes of a white tongue are,

What Are the Conditions Associated With White Tongue?

Some conditions associated with white tongue include,

Leukoplakia is a condition in which there are one or more white patches or spotty lesions on the inner surface of the mouth. It is due to the overgrowth of the cells that line the mouth. They combine with protein keratin to form a raised white patch on the tongue. It is due to chronic irritation because of smoking tobacco in most cases. Sometimes, there is no apparent cause. However, it is a potentially malignant disease (can turn into cancer years later or even after a decade from when it first showed up). The white or grayish patch cannot be scrapped from the surface, unlike the thrush of candidiasis.

Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory mouth condition of the mucous membrane of the mouth. The exact cause is unknown, but research reveals an autoimmune disorder. They appear as white and lacy patches with swollen, red tissues and open ulcers. They are painful and cause burning sensations and discomfort in the patient. This is also a precancerous condition (it has the potential to develop into cancer).

Oral thrush is caused by Candida albicans, a common fungal inhabitant of various body parts, including the oral cavity, throat, and vagina. It does cause problems in normal people. However, it is seen more widely in children and adults with weakened immune systems.

Syphilis can cause a small painless sore or ulcer on the tongue after exposure to the infection. It is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. If left untreated, it may lead to white plaques on the tongue, known as syphilitic leukoplakia. These symptoms typically arise 10 to 90 days after a person comes into contact with the bacteria.

What Are the Other Symptoms Associated With White Patches of the Tongue?

Who Is At Risk for White Tongue?

Some health issues, substances, and habits can leave you at an increased risk of getting a white tongue which may include,

What Is the Treatment for White Tongue?

In most instances, the white tongue may not need any treatment. The symptoms often settle on their own. But you may need to take an opinion with your doctor if it does not go away in two weeks or you have more severe symptoms like-

The treatment is given according to the underlying condition causing the white tongue, and it varies in each case.

How Can We Prevent White Tongue?

We cannot always avoid getting a white tongue, but basic oral hygiene can help prevent many cases.

Some of them are,

  1. Brushing in the morning and night and flossing regularly.

  2. Using a tongue scraper or brushing the tongue with a toothbrush.

  3. Certain lifestyle choices like eating a nutritious diet, avoiding alcohol, and using tobacco products.

  4. Use a soft-bristled brush and a fluoridated mouthwash daily.

  5. Additionally, a visit to the dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning may be helpful.


Bumps, patches, and spots in the mouth are usually harmless, even if they are distressing to see. However, some of them can give you clues about underlying health conditions that may need immediate attention. It is always good to know about these conditions, and when they last more than two weeks, you can consult an online doctor or visit your family physician to have a check on these conditions.

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Last reviewed at:
10 May 2022  -  4 min read




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