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Overview

A “white tongue” is one of the most prevalent signs of a thick white coating covering the tongue. It may cover the whole surface of the tongue, the rear area, or erupt in portions as it reaches the tongue. Potential side effects include a foul taste on the tongue, unpleasant breath, and redness.

Bumps on the back of the tongue i.e. papillae are normal parts of the tongue. Infectious and other conditions may affect their mass and lead to the appearance of a white tongue.

A white tongue may occur in conjunction with a condition called the hairy tongue. The thick fur-like covering you feel is not genuine hair; instead, it is the papillae, which are little bumps on the surface of the tongue that house the taste receptors.

The white tongue may appear gradually or abruptly as a result of an illness when the tongue is inflamed or contaminated. The white tongue may be caused by a variety of factors, but it usually goes away within a few weeks. You may also use an antifungal mouthwash to help with the problem. If your white tongue lasts more than a few weeks, or if you have discomfort or difficulty eating or speaking, you should contact a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

It is possible that a white tongue will not need treatment. This symptom usually goes away on its own within a few days.

By gently scrubbing the tongue with a soft toothbrush, you may be able to remove the white coating that has formed. Alternatively, gently scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper to get back the normal tongue color. Drinking enough water may also aid in the removal of germs and debris from the oral cavity.

If you do need treatment, the kind of treatment you get will be determined by the cause of your white tongue.

Causes

The growth and swelling of the fingerlike projections i.e. papillae on the surface of the tongue causes your white tongue. The appearance of a coating is created by germs, and dead cells being trapped between swollen and occasionally inflammatory papillae. Some of the common causes of inflammation or papillae hypertrophy leading to the white tongue are poor hygiene, dehydration, dry mouth, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and fever.

The main causes of the white tongue are:

Leukoplakia: It is a disorder in which the cells that line the mouth abnormally proliferate. A white elevated patch emerges on the tongue when these cells interact with the protein keratin (which is also found in the hair). When you consume alcohol or smoke tobacco, your mouth and tongue get irritated, which may lead to this problem in a number of conditions. Leukoplakia is a benign condition that seldom develops into carcinoma i.e. mouth cancer years or decades after it initially appears. This is one of the reasons due to which you might wonder why my tongue is white.

Geographic tongue: It develops during the regeneration of the skin of the tongue. Occasionally, the top layer of skin of the tongue sheds prematurely, resulting in unsightly red spots that are prone to infection. Meanwhile, certain parts of the tongue acquire white after being in place for a long time.

Oral lichen planus: It is a long-term inflammatory mouth ailment that affects the skin of the mouth. The underlying cause of this ailment is a failing immune system i.e. the body’s defense against viruses and bacteria. The condition results in inflamed papillae that in turn change the normal tongue color.

Infections: The infection appears as white or yellow spots on the tongue, the roof of the mouth, or the inside of the cheeks, depending on the strain. Oral thrush may affect anybody, although it is more common in newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. HIV tongue is also white in color due to the infection.

Other conditions that are associated with white tongue are:

·         Diabetes

·         Hypothyroidism

·         Syphilis

·         Tongue cancer

When to see a doctor

The presence of a white tongue is usually not caused for concern. This symptom, however, may sometimes suggest the existence of a more serious condition, such as an infection or the development of cancer. As a consequence, it is crucial to keep an eye on the other symptoms and see a doctor if the white or coated tongue does not go away within a few weeks of first detecting it.

If your tongue aches or itches, however, you should seek medical attention.

If your white tongue doesn’t go away after a few weeks, you should consult a doctor or a dentist. You should also get your tongue examined if it aches or if you have difficulty eating or speaking.