White Tongue: Causes and Treatment

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A white tongue is usually harmless but it does not mean that it should not worry you nonetheless. In some cases, it can indicate a pretty serious condition. But what causes it and how to treat it?

A white tongue can be characterized by a white covering in the tongue. The entire tongue may be coated, or it may appear as spots or patches. Small bumps in the tongue called papillae swell and become inflamed. It is not always possible to prevent getting a white tongue but you can reduce getting it. Although most appearances of the white tongue will clear up easily, that is not always the case.

Here are some causes of white tongue, conditions linked to it, and how to treat it:

Poor Oral Hygiene

In the papillae (small bumps in the tongue), plenty of germs, bacteria, food particles, and dead cells can get trapped. The collected debris is what causes the tongue to appear white as they build.

Oral hygiene issues such as the following situations can cause a white tongue:

  • Irritation from sharp edges inside the mouth (teeth, braces, dentures, other dental instruments)
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mouth by mouth-breathing or sleeping with an open mouth
  • Incorrect brushing or flossing of the teeth
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Frequent alcohol consumption
  • Not cleaning the tongue

To treat this or to lessen the odds of getting it, always practicing good dental health is always the best solution. This includes:

  • Using a fluoride toothpaste
  • Using a soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Brushing your teeth gently at least twice a day
  • Daily use of fluoride mouthwash
  • Flossing teeth at least once a day

Make sure that you carefully practice these because you will be able to lessen the chances of getting a white tongue as well as a lot of other possible oral diseases.


Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches to form on the inside of the cheeks, gums, and sometimes on the tongue. What causes this is usually from irritants like smoking or chewing tobacco, excess alcohol, and may also result in irritation from dentures. The patches are usually harmless but in rare cases, it can result in infection or early cancer.

This condition is not really grave in nature because it does not need to be treated. However, you should see a Calgary dentist for a dental check-up to monitor it and make sure it is not getting worse.

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is a fungal infection caused by the Candida yeast.  It causes the tongue to have patches that usually have a white or off-white color and may have an unpleasant taste.  People who have a weak immune system from HIV or AIDS, diabetes, iron or vitamin B deficiency, and who wear dentures are more likely to develop this condition.

Since this is a fungal infection, this is treated with antifungal medicine that is most likely in the form of an oral drop, a lozenge, or a pill. Book a dental appointment with an affordable Calgary dentist to make sure.

Oral Lichen Planus

Oral lichen planus is caused by a problem in the immune system that causes thick white patches to form in the mouth or tongue. This may appear alongside other symptoms such as painful cheeks and gums, and ulcers.

This also does not need to be treated but consult your doctor or a Calgary dentist nonetheless. The doctor will monitor it and may prescribe corticosteroids.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that if not treated, can cause white patches called syphilitic leukoplakia. This requires medical treatment. The doctor may prescribe penicillin or antibiotics to kill the bacteria. It is not necessarily a medical emergency but if it does not clear up after two weeks, you might want to consider contacting your doctor or a Calgary dentist.

If you are concerned and are experiencing this particular condition, search for affordable Calgary dental clinics that can accommodate you and your oral care needs. Inglewood Family Dental is a Calgary dentist that offers and provides a wide variety of dental treatments and procedures that can help you take care of and improve your oral health. Feel free to give us a visit or contact us at (403) 265-5888 to request an appointment!


Inglewood Family Dental
Phone: 403-265-5888
Address: 1420 9 Ave SE #24
City: Calgary
State: Alberta
Postal Code: T2G 0T5
Country: Canada
Maps: https://www.google.com/maps?cid=13000106521288127035

About Author

Dr. Arash Ravanbakhsh is a skilled Calgary dentist passionate about oral health. Graduating from the University of Alberta, he brings advanced dental knowledge to Inglewood Family Dental. Dedicated to patient care, Dr. Arash also volunteers his time on dental missions, improving oral health globally.