Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What does it mean if my tongue is white?"
The top of my tongue is very white compared to what it normally looks like. It doesn't feel dry really and doesn't hurt. Should I be nervous? What could the cause of this be?
Every now and then you notice that your tongue (usually a healthy pink) is coated in white. While a white tongue is something that can be alarming, there is no need to worry. Most of the time, the cause of a white tongue is harmless and temporary. The surface of your tongue is covered with papillae. If your tongue is entirely coated in white, you are likely to have an inflammation of the papillae that is caused by dead bacteria, debris and dead cells getting stuck among them. In rare cases, however, it can be a sign of a variety of serious diseases or illnesses, ranging from infection to a precancerous condition (i.e., leukoplakia). In general, smoking, excessive mouth breathing, dehydration, excessive alcohol intake, and poor oral hygiene can cause the papillae to become inflamed leading to a white tongue. Other conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include leukoplakia (pre-cancerous condition), oral lichen planus (a chronic autoimmune disorder), oral thrust (a yeast infection), and syphilis (a bacterial infection from sexual contact). While white tongue is generally harmless, it is good idea to schedule a visit with a primary care physician if you are concerned about changes in your tongue or if your white tongue persists for longer than two weeks to rule out any underlying cause of a serious condition.
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