Why Is My Tongue White? Here’s What’s Causing It (And How to Treat It)

Having your tongue turn white is an alarming symptom. Sometimes your tongue can turn from its normal pinkish hue into a patchwork of white spots or patches. Other times, your tongue can be fully white and pale. However, a white tongue isn’t always a cause for concern.

Learn why your tongue changed color, what it could mean about your oral and overall health, and how you can treat it.

Note: if you notice tongue discoloration, it’s important to talk to a doctor or a dentist as soon as possible. 

Why Is My Tongue White?

The color of your tongue reveals a lot about your overall health. Usually, the color of a healthy tongue is pinkish-red. However, your tongue can pale out for a multitude of reasons.

Generally, your tongue becomes white when the bumps on it (called papillae) become swollen. If you see a white coating on your tongue, it’s the debris, bacteria, and dead cells that got lodged between the swollen papillae.

However, a growth, lesion, or change in blood flow can also cause discoloration to your tongue. Often, you’ll also see white spots and patches on your gums too. These can be caused by an illness or even dehydration. Find out what common causes can lead to white tongue.

Common Reasons Why Your Tongue May Be White

  • Dehydration
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Illness or infection
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Reaction to certain medications, including antibiotics or steroids
  • Candida yeast infection (oral thrush)
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating spicy food (habanero and jalapeno peppers)
  • Congenital heart disease in adults

7 Conditions That Can Cause White Tongue, White Patches, or White Spots

To understand why your tongue may have turned white, it’s important to discover the exact cause of it. These 7 conditions and illnesses can often lead to tongue discoloration. 

1. Leukoplakia

If you find white patches on your gums, inner cheeks, and tongue, you may have leukoplakia. People who smoke and drink alcohol are more likely to experience this condition.

While leukoplakia by itself is harmless, left untreated the patches can harden and can’t be scraped off. Sometimes, leukoplakia can develop into oral cancer. If you notice redness around the white patches, it’s definitely worth asking for a biopsy to check if it’s precancerous. 

2. Oral Lichen Planus

Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory condition. Characterized by lace-like white patches on the gums and tongue, it’s generally painless. However, it can develop into painful sores.

3. Oral Thrush

A common reason why you may find white spots or patches on your tongue is oral thrush. Thanks to an accumulation of Candida fungus, you develop creamy white or yellow lesions on your tongue, gums, inner cheeks, and the roof of your mouth.

The lesions of this fungal infection can be sore and bleed. Getting antifungal treatment as soon as possible can diminish your symptoms of oral thrush and make your tongue a healthy color again.

4. Syphilis

This sexually transmitted disease doesn’t just create sores around your genitals. A common symptom of syphilis is white patches in the mouth and on the tongue. This is syphilitic leukoplakia.

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to syphilis, seek diagnosis and treatment immediately. Untreated syphilis is a deadly condition.

5. Geographic Tongue

Sometimes, there are missing papillae on your tongue, making the remaining patches look like islands on a map. This is called geographic tongue. Often, the patches turn white, which can be alarming.

Around 3% of the population is affected by this harmless condition. It has no long-term health effects and there’s no treatment needed for geographic tongue. 

6. Certain Medicines

Medicines like antibiotics can cause a yeast infection in the mouth. This is characterized by white patches on your tongue, gums, and cheeks.

7. Mouth or Tongue Cancer

One of the signs of oral cancer is a discoloration of the tongue. Mouth cancer is cancer in any part of your oral cavity. Tongue cancer on the other hand starts in the cells of your tongue inside your mouth or in your throat.

If you’re suspicious of the discoloration on your tongue, it’s best to see a dentist or a doctor about the possibility of cancer.

When to See a Doctor About White Tongue

If the discoloration of your tongue is your only symptom, it may not be necessary to see a doctor about it. Home remedies and a regular dental hygiene routine should resolve it.

However, if you develop other symptoms or you’re suspicious, it’s best to call a doctor or dentist. 

Definitely seek professional medical help if: 

  • Your tongue is painful or it feels like it’s burning.
  • You have open sores in your mouth.
  • You have trouble chewing, swallowing, or talking.
  • You have other symptoms, like a fever, weight loss, or skin rash.

Doctors and dentists are the only ones qualified to determine the exact cause and prescribe a treatment plan. Once the medical professional finds out why your tongue is white, they’ll either give you medication or therapy to reduce your symptoms. 

How to Treat White Tongue

If your white tongue is a symptom of poor oral hygiene, regularly brushing your teeth, flossing, and scraping your tongue should help restore the color of your tongue. 

However, if you do need treatment, the medication or therapy you get depends on what the root cause of your symptom is.

  • Leukoplakia: you don’t need treatment if you have leukoplakia. However, regular checkups by the dentist are crucial to make sure they don’t turn cancerous. To get rid of the white patches on your tongue caused by leukoplakia, stop smoking and reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Oral lichen planus: this condition also doesn’t require treatment. However, for severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a steroid spray or a mouth rinse.
  • Oral thrush: you need antifungal medication to treat oral thrush. This can come as a gel, liquid, pill, or lozenge.
  • Syphilis: a single dose of penicillin should treat syphilis. If you’re allergic to penicillin, the doctor will recommend an alternative antibiotic treatment.
  • Cancer: oral and tongue cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove affected areas, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other medications.

Home Remedies to Treat and Prevent White Tongue

It’s not always possible to prevent a white tongue, even with the best oral hygiene routine. However, you can try home remedies to treat it if you don’t have any other symptoms besides tongue discoloration. 

  • Probiotics: Probiotic supplements can help balance the bacteria in your mouth, which can prevent oral thrush. 
  • Baking soda: Rinsing with a baking soda and water solution can help balance the pH levels in your mouth and disinfect your tongue.
  • Coconut oil pulling: Coconut oil can remove bacteria from your mouth and tongue. 
  • Sea salt: Gargling and rinsing with a salt and water solution can also disinfect your mouth and tongue.
  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera is great against inflammation, so if your tongue turns white due to an infection, it can calm the tissue in your mouth.
  • Garlic: Garlic is an effective home remedy for white tongue thanks to its antifungal properties.
  • Colloidal silver: Colloidal silver has been proven to reduce viral and bacterial infections in minutes. Even a small amount can have great benefits.
  • Oregano oil: Oregano oil has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties.

Save on Oral Exams to Diagnose Your White Tongue

While a white tongue can be harmless dirt, it can also be a sign of a life-threatening illness. It’s best to go to the dentist for an oral examination to determine why your tongue turned white.

However, people with clear and alarming signs like this often don’t go to the dentist because of the cost. With a Carefree Dental Card, you won’t have to worry about that.

You can save a lot of money on your oral exams at participating dentists. Receive discounts of 15-50%* off your dental treatment (per visit in most instances) when you enroll at participating providers.

Get the treatment you need by signing up for a Carefree Dental Card today! Just $15.95/mo. for single and $19.95/mo. for your entire household.


The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

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