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:

  1. Dehydration
  2. Dry mouth
  3. Excessive alcohol use
  4. Fever
  5. Smoking

Conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include:

  1. Certain medications
  2. Geographic tongue (a condition that gives your tongue a map-like appearance)
  3. Leukoplakia (may be precancerous)
  4. Oral lichen planus (a chronic, autoimmune disorder)
  5. Oral thrush (a yeast infection, also known as candidiasis)
  6. Syphilis (a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact)

Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Jan. 12, 2012