What Causes a White Tongue?

Using tobacco products, such as cigarettes, can cause white patches to appear on the tongue.
Asthma inhalers can cause thrush which may result in white patches on the tongue.
A white tongue.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2014
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There are many different things that may cause a white tongue. Some are benign or can be easily fixed, others might require some treatment, and yet others may indicate precursors to cancer. Most of the time, waking up with a white tongue in the morning on a very occasional basis might indicate a need to practice better hygiene. It may also mean that you have a cold or allergies and breathed through your mouth most of the night, since mouth breathing is a common cause of white tongue.

Generally, the occasional white tongue, especially when the whole tongue is white (not white in spots or patches), is due to minor inflammation of papillae, the tiny bumps that coat your tongue. These can, like skin cells, collect things like white blood cells, bits of bacteria and the like and as a result, look swollen and white in color. This condition can be caused by poor oral hygiene, dehydration or may be chronic for smokers. People who take medications that cause dry mouth may encounter white tongue on a fairly regular basis, with symptoms residing after hydrating the mouth in the morning.

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A tongue that looks white in patches may indicate another condition, thrush, a type of oral yeast infection. This may be caused if you have recently taken antibiotics, and it’s not uncommon in infants and the elderly. People with diabetes may be more prone to thrush, and some oral inhalants for asthma can also result in the condition. Thrush does require treatment and you should see your health care provider if you suspect it.

Another condition, leukoplakia, causes white patches on the tongue. This condition occurs often in people who smoke or use tobacco products, and it should definitely indicate a trip to the doctor, since it can be viewed as a potential precursor to oral cancer. This is not always the case, and the condition may resolve if tobacco-using behaviors end.

Lichen planus, a rare rash condition may cause white stripes to appear on the tongue. It may feel itchy and you may note the rash appearing on other parts of the body, especially the on the wrists, forearms, midback and above the ankles. The mouth rash may appear first, and if you notice your tongue has either stripes or lacy white patterns, you probably ought to discuss this with your family doctor. Lichen planus can also result from tobacco use, and may resolve if the person affected stops smoking or chewing.

In most cases, white tongue is benign, or results in conditions that are treated easily. Good oral hygiene and quitting tobacco use may also be helpful in avoiding it. Patches, stripes or lacy patterns on the tongue are another story. These should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out the above-mentioned conditions.

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Discuss this Article

anon328958
Post 18

For geographic tongue, I rinse with hydrogen peroxide before bed (you can dilute it with water a bit -just don't swallow it and rinse afterwards with water). By morning it is less irritated and healing.

Skimousn
Post 17

Can a metallic or chemical taste and smell develop in your mouth when you develop a white tongue?

anon317170
Post 16

I have white tongue and patches all over my tongue. I taste anything sweet at all. Please help me. I am just 18. Is it HIV?

anon304563
Post 15

I had white tongue problems my entire life and post nasal drip. Not sure if the two were related. But I was told by an ENT doc I have a deviated septum and enlarger turbinates. After getting septoplasty and turbinate reduction I presumably get more air into system through the nose and hence more oxygen.

Ever since the surgery, my tongue has been much healthier looking, pink in color and barely any whiteness. I suggest anyone with a white tongue go see an ENT doctor and see if they have have any of the symptoms I had.

anon284790
Post 14

Wow, thank you, thank you so much. I keep typing in white tongue and everywhere I go always says it's candida or oral thrush, then I look at pictures and no, my tongue is solid white, not patchy and not stripes, just white. My dentist freaked me out, but my doctor just thinks it's cigarettes and dehydration and my pH and flora. He never said anything about candida and you just made me feel so much better. I'm only 31 and want to keep on moving.

I've been so stressed out because of this white tongue and now I'm realizing that I'm worrying myself crazy, so thank you whomever hosts this site. I'm saving this site because my tongue is white when I wake up but looks normal after brushing and tongue scraping. It doesn't bleed; it's just kind of white. I also get some mucus on my gums like dry saliva, but it goes away as soon as I brush in the morning too. So again, thank this site for saying something other then thrush. It's just like my O.D. said: don't worry.

anon177251
Post 13

does Marijuana cause white tongue?

anon174443
Post 12

This article was very helpful. Iam going to try rinsing with salt water and hopefully that will be the cure! but to all those out there, a chronic white tongue would need a physician's examination because it could indicate that there is an imbalance in the body.

anon167437
Post 11

I agree with the person who said to eat pineapple daily. I had a horrible cold, and a thick white line down my tongue every day for a week. On the fourth day of the cold, I started eating pineapple, and it was gone within two days. The enzymes must break it down, I guess. I had tried brushing and using peroxide and grape fruit seed oil, but those did nothing.

anon166110
Post 10

"If it's a yeast infection, then antibiotics are in order and that usually requires a doctor's prescription."

Antibiotics are for bacterial infections, not fungal infections. Under no circumstances should you be prescribed or take antibiotics for a yeast or fungal infection. This is likely to make it worse by killing the good bacteria that normally keeps these things in check!

anon155059
Post 9

an antibiotic won't cure a fungal disease. You need an antifungal.

anon135708
Post 8

Eat a pineapple a day and bid farewell to white tongue. -- Dr. M

anon131368
Post 7

it helps to not only scrape your tongue but sometimes that's not enough. Exfoliating the tongue with brown sugar helps but often a white tongue indicates problems with nasal congestion through colds /allergies and general overuse of nasal sprays to relieve congestion. it's worth checking with your G.P to see if you have a history with nasal problems .mk

anon87699
Post 5

I've suffered from this problem for about two or three years now and I've tried a lot of things with no success. I can scrub my tongue thoroughly and use hydrogen peroxide and a number of supplements and nothing's really worked.

All I can say is that drinking alcohol is one of the worst things you can do. You've got to drink a ton of water and remember to thoroughly scrape at least once a day. Most people say twice a day, but I'm lazy and that's probably why I still have problems. It doesn't hurt, but it does taste funky in my mouth sometimes and I'm sure my breath is probably less than sexy.

Anytime I go anywhere, I make sure I scrub and brush until everything is gone. Usually no matter what I do, when I wake up in the morning, it's back. Not being hydrated makes it worse. Got to drink a lot of water!

I've tried caprylic acid, oregano oil and grapeseed oil and none of them helped my tongue whatsoever.

frankjoseph
Post 4

One form of better hygiene to get rid of white tongue, in addition to better brushing and flossing, I've found, is to use a tongue scrapper. It's not hard to use, nor does it hurt, but it has immediate and obvious results.

stare31
Post 3

Santarosa -- I don't think there are any universal over-the-counter medications for white tongue. If it's just hygienic issues that's the cause, then improving hygiene is the real solution. If it's a yeast infection, then antibiotics are in order and that usually requires a doctor's prescription.

santarosa
Post 1

Man, I didn't realize all these conditions caused a white tongue. I thought the cause was because of poor hygiene. I associate bad breath with white tongues. I wasn't expecting to find all this out; its more serious than I thought. Are there any over the counter medications someone can use to treat this?

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