Is there a thick white coat on your tongue? It can be due to bacteria or other oral health problems. However, the white tongue is usually harmless.
It may look unpleasant and also frightening but it is treatable and there’s nothing to worry about generally.
Besides that, this condition also results in bad breath, redness and bad odor.
Moreover, it may accompany hair-like projections giving your tongue a hairy appearance.
Rarely this may also point towards early-stage cancer or an infection.
Therefore, you should visit your doctor to get treatment timely.
This article discusses the causes behind the white tongue and how you can treat it. So, let’s begin!
What Causes White Tongue?
This condition occurs because of the inflammation of the bumps and projections on the surface of the tongue.
They are known as the papillae.
The papillae swell due to the accumulation of bacteria and dead cells between them.
As this debris gets trapped in the tiny bumps, they tend to grow larger in size and swell.
Hence, it forms the white patches somewhere on the tongue as well as a hairy tongue like appearance.
The main reason for papillae hypertrophy is poor oral hygiene.
If you do not clean your mouth and your tongue properly then you at risk of debris, dead cells and bacteria lodging in these tiny bumps.
However, there are other conditions and oral health problems that may cause it too such as:
- having a dry mouth and dehydration
- drinking excessive alcoholic drinks
- smoking and using chewing tobacco
- eating soft foods or mashed usually i.e. you have a low roughage diet
- irritation from orthodontic appliances or sharp edges of teeth
- breathing through your mouth
Oral health conditions that can cause a white tongue, include:
Oral Lichen Planus
This long-term inflammatory condition originates from an immune system disorder.
White patches form on your tongue as well as your mouth.
Moreover, the gums become sores.
The inside lining of the mouth also has mouth sores.
You cannot pass the oral lichen planus to others.
Bacterial infection and STI, Syphilis initially results in mouth sores.
However, if you do not treat the infection timely then soon white patches also form on the tongue.
These white patches are known as syphilis leukoplakia.
This brings us to…
This condition results from a cell overgrowth in the lining of the mouth.
These cells combine with keratin protein to form a layer of white patches on the tongue.
Irritants like alcohol and tobacco can cause the cells to overgrow.
It is not a serious problem unless it turns out to become cancerous years later.
If there are any missing papillae on your tongue then your tongue assumes a map-like appearance.
A geographic tongue happens when a few parts of the tongue are regrowing as few parts of the skin shed quickly.
Hence, that leaves red patches that have skin that sheds quickly and can get infected as well as white patches where skin does not shed as fastly and stays in place longer.
This condition is also harmless but can form these white patches at some areas of your tongue giving it a map-like geographic shape.
One of the most common causes behind the white patches is yeast infection or oral thrush.
The Candida fungus is already present inside your mouth.
However, fungal growth can increase and other conditions are the risk factor for why it happens.
A weak immunity, diabetes, vitamin B and iron deficiency can all cause this problem to occur.
Furthermore, certain medications such as the long use of antibiotics can also cause the infection.
Similarly, mouth or tongue cancer may also result in white patches on your tongue.
Due to these conditions that cause the white tongue, some people are more at risk of developing it than others.
Let’s find out about that below!
People at Risk
People with existing diseases or unhealthy oral habits and poor hygiene are more at risk of developing these patches.
For instance, if you have diabetes then you are at risk of developing oral thrush.
Similarly, oral thrush is present more in infants, toddlers or the elderly due to weak immune systems.
Due to weak immunity, even a fever can cause this problem.
If you are going through cancer treatments or have HIV/Aids then that can weaken your immunity too.
Drinking alcohol, regularly smoking and chewing tobacco are all risk factors contributing to the white patches.
Another condition hypothyroidism can affect your metabolism.
The underactive thyroid gland results in poor metabolism which in return causes the patches to appear.
The lack of nutrients in your diets such as iron and Vitamin B are contributors too.
This happens when your diet does not include fruits and vegetables and only soft foods.
Taking muscle relaxers and antibiotics also puts you at risk as that may dehydrate your mouth.
Additionally, if you are low maintenance and do not take care of your oral hygiene properly, skipping a tongue cleaner and scraping then you are likely to lodge bacteria, dead cells, and debris in your papillae.
You can also get the condition from oral piercing.
A piercing on the tongue can have a white coating.
The bacterial growth causes this.
However, a white ring is simply a sign of wound healing after the piercing.
Hence, these people are more at risk of getting the condition.
Nonetheless, you can treat it in some time.
White Tongue Treatment
You may not need treatment for the condition as it goes away on its own.
However, that can take a few weeks.
If you want quick treatment or if the symptoms do not go on their own then you can get treatment.
Also, if the underlying condition needs treatment then your doctor will prescribe you the treatment accordingly.
You can also get treatment separately for the symptoms that show up.
Tongue Rash from Oral Lichen Planus
It can stay on your tongue for several years.
The discomfort arising from the condition will cause burning and sore gums.
Hence, your dentist can advise you to take steroidal mouthwash or sprays to help with the symptoms.
However, oral lichen planus does not necessarily need treatment a sit will go on its own.
White Patches from a Geographic Tongue
There is no treatment for it however, you can avoid irritants that cause discomfort.
You can use topical antibiotics to soothe the discomfort but neither does it transfer to another person nor is it a dangerous condition.
If the white patches have a chance of turning cancerous then your surgeon will advise you to remove them.
The surgical procedure used can include removing the patches through:
- cryotherapy -freezing by using liquid nitrogen
The surgery ensures that the cells of the tongue do not turn cancerous.
Your dentist might give local or general anesthesia to carry out the procedure.
If you have a hairy tongue as a symptom of the white tongue then your doctor will treat what causes it- a weak immune system.
They can give you antiviral drugs and a treatment to apply to the patches.
Mouth Fungus in Oral Thrush
For this, your dentist will first address the fungus overgrowth.
First, they will give an antifungal medication either in the form of pills, gels or rinse.
You will first need several applications daily to get rid of the patches.
Since Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection then it does not go on its own.
In fact, if you have it for a very long time then it damages your nervous system.
To treat it you will need an antibiotic injection.
However, if it has continued for over a year then you will require three of those.
When Should I Contact My Doctor?
Check with your doctor if you develop open sores.
This could hint at a serious infection.
If you cannot swallow, chew or even talk properly then your condition may be serious.
Contact them when your tongue burns and is more painful.
A skin rash, fever or weight loss are symptoms to look out for.
If your condition does not dissipate on its own and these symptoms also appear, visit your doctor.
A white tongue will go on its own but you will have to remain patient for a few weeks.
During this time you can manage the symptoms and clean the patches by following good oral hygiene.
After all, this condition usually develops because of the lodging of bacteria and debris.
You can easily get rid of it by practicing these oral health tips:
- Using a soft-bristled toothbrush to brush teeth
- Taking OTC painkillers if the discomfort increases
- Using fluoride toothpaste
- Drinking 8 glasses of water to continue the salivary flow and prevent dry mouth
- Avoid foods that are salty, spicy very hot or acidic.
- Resist irritants such as cigarettes and alcoholic drinks and alcohol in mouthwashes
- Using a fluoride rinse or an anti-fungal rinse
- Drinking cold drinks from a straw
- Use a tongue cleaner, brush or scraper to eliminate the white coating. A teaspoon may also help in removing it gently.
If your white tongue persists and hurts a lot then do not wait for it to go on its own.
It is better to get medication as soon as you see it.
However, if it heals from maintaining good oral hygiene then scrape your tongue lightly to remove it.