White tongue is the result of inflammation of the finger-like projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue. The appearance of a white coating is caused by debris, bacteria and dead cells getting lodged between the inflamed papillae.
Causes of inflammation include:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive alcohol use
Conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include:
- Certain medications
- Geographic tongue (a condition that gives your tongue a map-like appearance)
- Leukoplakia (may be precancerous)
- Oral lichen planus (a chronic, autoimmune disorder)
- Oral thrush (a yeast infection, also known as candidiasis)
- Syphilis (a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact)
Jan. 12, 2012
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
- Reamy BV, et al. Common tongue conditions in primary care. American Family Physician. 2010;81:627.
- Bhattacharyya I, et al. White lesions. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2011;44:109.
- Lerman MA, et al. Generalized white appearance of the oral mucosa. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2010;141:867.
- Evaluation of the dental patient. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental_disorders/approach_to_the_dental_patient/evaluation_of_the_dental_patient.html. Accessed Oct. 12, 2011.