White tongue, the main causes

White tongue is a term used to describe any area of ​​the tongue that has a grayish-white coating. This plaque can cover the entire tongue or appear in patches.
There are various reasons for the appearance of white tongue, and each of them has a specific treatment. A white tongue is usually a harmless symptom, but on rare occasions it can indicate a serious condition. In this article, we look at common causes of white tongue and home remedies to get rid of this problem.

Main causes of a white tongue

The most common cause of white tongue is poor oral hygiene. The small bumps on the tongue, called papillae, can become swollen and inflamed if the mouth is not properly cleaned. Many germs, deposits, leftover food and dead cells can get stuck between these taste buds. The tongue then turns white as the particles accumulate.

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

– Dry mouth from mouth breathing or sleeping with your mouth open
– not brushing or flossing properly
– Failure to clean the tongue
– the dehydration
– Irritation from sharp edges in the mouth, e.g. B. teeth, braces or dentures
– regular alcohol consumption
– Smoking, chewing or dipping tobacco.

Basic oral hygiene is essential for everyone, but some conditions cause white tongue, even in people who are very careful about their mouth. These include:

– Oral lichen planus

Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect the mouth and tongue. It can also affect the lips, the inside of the cheeks, and the gums. Researchers aren’t sure what causes this condition, but it could be due to an immune response or genetic factors.

Symptoms affecting the mouth include:

– white patches of skin, similar to lace
– ulcers
– Pain, including discomfort, soreness or burning
– Swelling and redness


Oral lichen planus is a chronic condition, and in many cases the doctor will only monitor it to make sure the lesions are healing properly.
In severe cases, the doctor may prescribe topical or oral corticosteroids.


Irritants like tobacco and alcohol can lead to leukoplakia. It can also result from inflammatory conditions and irritation from dentures. It can affect any area of ​​the mouth, including the tongue, cheeks, and gums. Leukoplakia can present as thick, white patches that cannot be scraped off. Sometimes the spots can be red and white. Stains caused by leukoplakia are in themselves harmless. In rare cases, leukoplakia can progress to cancer, so it’s best to get it diagnosed by a doctor right away.


A healthcare professional should monitor leukoplakia to make sure it is not getting worse. He may recommend reducing alcohol consumption or quitting smoking.
Sometimes a doctor needs to surgically remove the plaques.

oral thrush

Oral thrush is another condition that can cause the tongue to appear white. Oral thrush is a fungal infection caused by Candida.

Symptoms include:

– white or whitish patches in the mouth and on the tongue
– an unpleasant taste or loss of taste
– Pain, especially when eating or drinking
– Redness or pain

People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop oral thrush. This includes people who have recently taken antibiotics or have undergone chemotherapy. Poor oral hygiene or wearing ill-fitting dentures are other risk factors. The use of inhaled corticosteroids for asthma can also cause oral thrush. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes and HIV, can increase the risk of infection.


Treatment for oral thrush usually involves antifungal medications. These medications are used in the mouth for one to two weeks until the condition goes away. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe oral or intravenous antifungal medications.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause symptoms in many parts of the body, including the mouth.
Symptoms include:

– white patches on the tongue
– Red and white lesions, called chancres, on the tongue or lips
– firm, raised lesions in the mouth
These symptoms usually appear between 10 and 90 days after a person has been exposed to the bacteria. Cancer can go away on its own over time, but the disease can stay in the body and progress without treatment.


Syphilis requires medical treatment with the antibiotic penicillin. This antibiotic kills the bacteria that cause the disease. People who are allergic to penicillin can take another type of antibiotic. Reducing irritants in the mouth, like alcohol and tobacco, can also help white spots go away.

Other Conditions

Rarer but sometimes serious conditions can cause white patches to appear on the tongue. Mouth or tongue cancer can cause a white tongue. Common causes of these cancers are chronic tobacco or alcohol use and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Underlying chronic inflammatory diseases can also affect white tongue.

When to see a doctor

Most cases of white tongue go away easily, but this is not always the case. If symptoms do not respond to basic oral care or if they occur at the same time as other symptoms, a doctor should be consulted.

home remedies

Certain home remedies and habits can also help get rid of white tongue.


Probiotics are another way to affect oral symptoms like white tongue. Probiotics are strains of bacteria that are good for the digestive system. While much of the probiotic research focuses on improving gut health, probiotics may also be helpful for the mouth and tongue. A 2017 study found that probiotic bacteria can colonize both the mouth and the gut. In some cases, these bacteria can help fight off infectious yeast and other harmful strains of bacteria. Although the evidence is inconclusive, probiotics can still help balance the environment in the mouth and prevent white tongue.

Baking Soda Scrub

Adding food-grade baking soda to a toothbrush and scrubbing your tongue, teeth, and gums can help reduce bacteria that cause white tongue.
One study found that a baking soda mouthwash can reduce harmful bacteria that commonly cause oral infections, such as: B. Streptococci.

raw garlic

Consuming garlic can help the body fight infections caused by bacteria and fungi. Garlic has antibacterial and antifungal properties, including the ability to fight candida. You can eat a whole clove of garlic raw every day or chop it up and eat it with a little olive oil.

tongue scratching

Gently scraping your tongue back and forth can also help reduce and remove bacteria and debris that builds up in your mouth. Many companies make specialized tongue-scratching tools that can be purchased online. The edge of a spoon can be used just as well.


While it’s not always possible to avoid white tongue, basic oral hygiene can help prevent many cases. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Many people also benefit from using a tongue scraper every day or brushing their tongue with a toothbrush. Certain lifestyle habits can also sometimes help prevent white tongue from appearing. Avoiding tobacco products and alcoholic beverages can help, as can a varied and nutritious diet. A check-up visit to the dentist every 6 months will help keep your mouth as clean as possible. People should report any relevant symptoms to a doctor in order to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.


The outlook for white tongue is generally very good. In many cases it is harmless, although it can be painful to see. Symptoms don’t always respond immediately to improved hygiene or lifestyle, but anyone with a white tongue is advised to improve their oral health.
In rare cases, a white tongue is a sign of a serious underlying condition. Following a doctor’s treatment plan is the best way to relieve symptoms.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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