Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"Why are there white spots on the top of my tongue?"

ZocdocAnswersWhy are there white spots on the top of my tongue?


I noticed that there are white spots, kind of like patches on the top of my tongue. What causes something like this? Is it a virus or a disease?


What you have described as white spots or patches on your tongue and oral mucosa that are easily wiped off is most likely oral candidiasis, also known as thrust. It can look like cottage cheese. The underlying pathogen here is Candida Albicans, a fungus that lives naturally in your mouth. You increase your risk of getting oral thrust if you have a compromised (weak) immune system (i.e., diabetes) or if your mouth is dry and thus don't make enough saliva. Oral thrust is also more likely to occur after having taken antibiotics, which may kill the "good" bacteria in the mouth leading to an overgrowth of the fungus. It is also possible that uncontrolled acid reflux may be playing a role here as well as an untreated (bacterial) infection of the mouth and throat. If your white spots have a lace-like appearance, you may be suffering from oral lichen planus which often resolves on its own. A more serious cause of those white spots to develop on the lining of the cheek or the tongue is leukoplakia, a condition that causes cells in the mouth to grow excessively due to chronic irritation rather than infection. Although not dangerous on its own, leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer. I would recommend that you schedule a visit with a dentist or primary care physician to determine the exact cause of your white patches and rule out cancer.

Need more info?

See a dentist today

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.