White tongueBy Mayo Clinic staff
Original Article: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/white-tongue/MY01011
White tongue is a coating of debris, bacteria and dead cells on your tongue that makes it look white. Although the appearance of white tongue may be alarming, the condition is usually harmless and temporary. However, white tongue can be an indication of some serious conditions, ranging from infection to a precancerous condition.
If you're concerned about a white coating or white spots on your tongue, contact your doctor or dentist.
White tongue is the result of inflammation of the finger-like projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue. The appearance of a white coating is caused by debris, bacteria and dead cells getting lodged between the inflamed papillae.
Causes of inflammation include:
Conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include:
When to see a doctor
White tongue is generally harmless, and may be helped by brushing your tongue with a tongue scraper and drinking plenty of water.
Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if:
- You're concerned about changes in your tongue
- Your tongue hurts
- Your white tongue persists for longer than two weeks
- Reamy BV, et al. Common tongue conditions in primary care. American Family Physician. 2010;81:627.
- Bhattacharyya I, et al. White lesions. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2011;44:109.
- Lerman MA, et al. Generalized white appearance of the oral mucosa. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2010;141:867.
- Evaluation of the dental patient. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental_disorders/approach_to_the_dental_patient/evaluation_of_the_dental_patient.html. Accessed Oct. 12, 2011.