What is White Tongue - Causes and Symptoms


If you’re wondering why your tongue is white, you may be experiencing coated tongue, which is also known as ‘white tongue’. This condition is usually harmless and is caused by bacteria, fungi, and dead cells becoming trapped in between your tongue’s inflamed papillae.

Your papillae are tiny raised protrusions in your tongue that help us taste food, distinguishing between salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami flavours.

With white tongue, your whole tongue might be white, or you might notice small white spots on your tongue, or even a furry tongue.

Whilst white tongue is usually nothing to worry about, this condition may be a symptom of an underlying more serious illness or infection. If the white coating on tongue doesn’t go away or gets worse, it’s best to speak to your health advisor for more guidance.

Causes of White Tongue

White tongue is usually related to oral hygiene but may also be caused by certain medications or diseases. Keep reading to find out the main causes of a white tongue.

Oral Hygiene

Poor brushing and flossing can cause a build-up of bacteria in your mouth which may manifest as small white spots on tongue.

Smoking & Alcohol

Alcohol has a diuretic effect that causes a reduction in saliva production, drying your mouth. Smoking can also cause dryness as it reduces the levels of oxygen in the bloodstream which leads to gum problems and an increase in bacterial plaque, which may lead to white tongue.

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is caused by the proliferation of yeasts called Candida. This fungal infection causes small white patches on tongue or a full-on white hairy tongue. Oral thrush can also be caused by antibiotic use which affect the balance of healthy bacteria or fungi, thus causing more harmful ones to proliferate.

Leukoplakia & Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition that can appear as white or red patches, resembling a map. Leukoplakia causes white spots on tongue, gums and the inside of your cheeks. In rare cases, leukoplakia can develop into oral cancer so it’s wise to monitor the condition and speak with your health adviser if symptoms don’t improve.

Tongue Piercings

The build-up of bacteria in your mouth can cause your tongue piercing to get infected. This may lead to tongue infection causing a white coated tongue.

Underlying Diseases

If you suffer from HIV, diabetes, hypothyroidism, or a weakened immune system, you may be more prone to getting oral thrush, which causes a white tongue.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, can also cause white spots on the tongue, which are called syphilitic leukoplakia.

Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy, a type of treatment for cancer, can cause mouth sores, tongue irritation, and a white-coated tongue.

White Tongue Symptoms

Apart from the visible signs of white tongue, you may also experience additional symptoms such as bad breath, a foul taste in your mouth, and/or notice the papillae becoming enlarged.

Since white tongue is usually caused by an increase in bacteria or fungi in the mouth, this increase will also be responsible for the bad breathand taste in your mouth also known as halitosis.

How to Get Rid of White Tongue

White tongue is usually harmless and goes away on its own or with improved oral hygiene. If you are suffering from white spots on tongue, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep your mouth hydrated and eat a healthy balanced diet.

Refraining from drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes can also help your white tongue go away faster.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of coated tongue topically, use fluoride mouthwashes that help combat bacteria build-up and brush your teeth and mouth regularly. You may also prefer to use a tongue scraperwhich is specifically designed to help clean your tongue surface.

If your condition persists, always consult a doctor as they’ll be able to recommend the best treatment.

White Tongue Prevention

The best way to prevent white tongue is to maintain a good general oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice and use a fluoride toothpaste like Oral B’s Pro-Expert Deep Clean Toothpaste.

Scheduling regular dental check-ups can also help prevent bacteria from forming as plaque or tartar[GJ1] which in turn will stop conditions like white tongue from occurring.


Why is my tongue white?

There are multiple reasons why your tongue appears white. Most cases of white tongue are harmless and are primarily caused by poor oral hygiene. However, this condition may also be caused by underlying conditions like HIV, hypothyroidism, and oral thrush. 

How to get rid of white tongue?

Most cases of white tongue will go away on their own. Keeping good oral hygiene, refraining from smoking or drinking alcohol excessively and following a balanced diet will help you get rid of white coated tongue faster.

What does a white tongue mean?

A white tongue is usually a sign of poor oral hygiene. Your tongue appears white because of a build-up of bacteria, fungi or food residues stuck in your inflamed tongue papillae.

Is a white tongue bad?

Most cases of white tongue aren’t serious and can be treated by reinstating a good oral hygiene and using antibacterial mouthwashes. However, it is always best to consult your dental professional if your symptoms don’t improve as white spots on tongue could be caused by other underlying medical conditions.