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White tongue is a term used to describe any area of the tongue that has a grayish-white coating on it. The entire tongue may be coated, or the coating may appear in patches.

There are a few different reasons for a white tongue, and each has a specific treatment. A white tongue is usually a harmless symptom but, in rare cases, it can indicate a serious condition.

In this article, we look at common causes of a white tongue and home remedies to get rid of the problem.

Doctor examining tongue and throat.Share on Pinterest
Maintaining good oral hygeine is important for preventing problems from ocurring with the tongue.

The most common cause of a white tongue is poor oral hygiene. Small bumps on the tongue called papillae can start to swell up and become inflamed in a mouth that is not cared for well.

Plenty of germs, debris, food particles, and dead cells can get stuck in between these papillae. This causes the tongue to appear white as the particles build.

Oral and hygiene issues that can lead to a white tongue include:

  • dry mouth caused by mouth-breathing or sleeping with the mouth open
  • not brushing or flossing the teeth correctly
  • not cleaning the tongue
  • dehydration
  • irritation from sharp edges inside the mouth, such as teeth, braces, or dentures
  • regular alcohol consumption
  • smoking, chewing, or dipping tobacco

Basic oral hygiene is essential for everyone, but there are some conditions that cause a white tongue even in people who take great care of their mouths. These include:

Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that can affect the mouth and cause thick, white patches of skin to appear in the mouth and tongue.

These white patches may appear alongside other symptoms, including ulcers or painful cheeks and gums.

Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia causes thick white patches to form on the tongue and mouth. Leukoplakia is usually caused by irritants such as tobacco and alcohol, but may also result from inflammatory conditions and irritation from dentures.

The patches that leukoplakia causes are harmless by themselves. Rare cases can have serious complications, so a doctor should always diagnose leukoplakia.

Oral thrush