Causes of white tongue

 custer dentist

Maintaining goodoral hygeine is important for preventing problems from ocurring with the tongue. The most common cause of a white tongue is poor oral hygeine. 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

Medical treatment

A white tongue caused by a certain disorder may need a specific medical treatment. Oral thrush is treated with antifungal medicines, most likely in the form of an oral drop, for 1 to 2 weeks until it has run its course. Oral lichen planus is treated with corticosteroids if it is severe, but in many cases, it is simply monitored by a doctor or dentist. Leukoplakia will also be monitored by a healthcare professional to make sure it is not getting worse. Syphilis is treated with the antibiotic penicillin that kills the bacteria that cause the disease. Reducing irritants in the mouth, such as alcohol and tobacco, may help clear up the white patches.


While it is not always possible to avoid getting a white tongue, basic oral hygeinecan help prevent many cases. This includes brushing the teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Many people also benefit from using a tongue scraper every day or brushing the tongue with a toothbrush. Lifestyle choices may also help prevent a white tongue at times. Avoiding tobacco products and alcoholic drinks may help, as well as eating a varied and nutritious diet. Going to a dentist every 6 months for a checkup will help keep the mouth as clean as possible. People should report any worrying symptoms to a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.


The outlook for a white tongue is typically very good. In many cases, it is harmless, even if it may be distressing to see. Symptoms may not always respond to improved hygiene or lifestyle choices right away, but improved oral health is suggested for anyone with a white tongue. In rare cases, a white tongue is an indication of a serious underlying condition. Following the treatment plan set out by a doctor is the best way of relieving symptoms.

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