CausesBy Mayo Clinic Staff
White tongue is the result of an overgrowth and swelling of the fingerlike 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 enlarged and sometimes inflamed papillae.
Causes of papillae hypertrophy or inflammation include, for example:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Dry mouth
- Congenital heart disease in adults
- Smoking or other oral tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Mouth breathing
- Low roughage diet — eating mostly soft or mashed foods
- Mechanical irritation from sharp tooth edges or dental appliances
Examples of conditions associated with white patches or other discolorations of your tongue include:
- Use of certain medications, such as prolonged use of antibiotics that may bring on an oral yeast infection
- Oral thrush
- Geographic tongue
- Oral lichen planus
- Mouth cancer
- Tongue cancer
Feb. 12, 2015
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
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- Detecting oral cancer: A guide for health care professionals. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/oralcancer/detectingoralcancer.htm#WarningSigns. Accessed Dec. 2, 2014.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 6, 2014.
- Bruce AJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 6, 2015.