White Tongue: Causes and Treatment

White Tongue: Causes and Treatment
Photo source: Getty images

White tongue is a common harmless phenomenon, especially in the morning after waking up. In other cases, a yeast infection or other disease conditions may be behind the condition.

A white film on the tongue is a common phenomenon, behind which you do not need to look for a disease cause, especially if it can be easily wiped off and removed.

However, if it persists and the tongue cannot be cleansed, it may be a disease, i.e. a pathological condition

No, it is not always a serious disease. Sometimes only a harmless overgrowth of microorganisms in the mouth. This happens, for example, when taking antibiotics.

Of course, in some cases the situation can be more serious.

In young children, infants, the tongue may be coated with milk, especially shortly after breastfeeding. It is easy to wipe off.

However, if you can't, don't forcefully scrub it. This could cause pain and injury to the surface lining of the mouth and tongue.

Seek a paediatrician who will examine the child and determine whether this is some typical childhood disease.

In both children and adults, white tongue can be the result of poor oral hygiene.

Don't forget: just like your teeth, it's a good idea to clean your tongue with a toothbrush.

Cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush is important
The tongue needs to be brushed with a toothbrush, too. Photo: Getty Images

Do you know how to choose a suitable toothbrush?

White tongue is common

The tongue is a muscular organ that helps us with the digestion and processing of foof.

It is equally important in speech and voice formation.

It also has an important role in sensory functions.

We use our tongues to recognise tastes. These are well known and also almost everyone has heard of taste buds, which are used for the aforementioned identification of tastes.

Want to know more? 
What does the white coating of the tongue mean?
Read on and learn more.

On the surface of the tongue and throughout the oral cavity there is a mucous membrane whose cells are subject to ageing and death. Their gradual regeneration and renewal is important for several reasons. 

The dead cells peel off, move to the surface, mix with saliva. Thus, on the surface of the tongue and oral cavity, they form a whitish coating

The coating contains dead cells - epithelia, bacteria, saliva, mucin or food debris. Its quantity and quality fluctuates with the time of day, being most pronounced especially in the morning after waking. 

A pale-coloured tongue for this reason is more common especially in the morning after waking up and after a prolonged period without eating or drinking. 

Since, the dead cells were not removed mechanically enough.

The tongue is easy to clean.

Likewise, it is possible to easily cleanse even with a pale tongue discoloration after eating. An example is the consumption of dairy and other products.

In young children after breastfeeding. 

Washing the tongue is easy and is not accompanied by any other difficulties.

A similar situation is that this phenomenon occurs when breathing through the mouth. The tongue gets dry, it is more difficult to wash and clean.

A dry tongue tends to be coated with a thick to stiff coating that is more difficult to wipe off.

It can look whitish to yellowish or of a different colour.

White tongue is especially common among the elderly, who are less self-sufficient or non-self-sufficient, unable to drink or eat on their own.

Several ailments keep them bedridden and immobile, further complicating the overall situation.

In addition, the elderly often forget to drink fluids as their perception of thirst decreases, so they are often dehydrated.

Read also the article with the symptoms of dehydration.

In addition to a dry and pale tongue, their lips and the entire mucous membrane of the mouth are also dry. Over time, their lips start and mucous membranes begin to crack, and may even bleed on the damaged surface.

Similarly, excessive breathing through the mouth is often oobserved in young children, especially with inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, with flu, colds, colds.

Due to mucus and a stuffy nose, children breathe through their mouths, which excessively dries out the tongue and the cavity of the mouth.

Smoking or other forms of tobacco use may also be responsible for the discolouration of the tongue surface.

White tongue as a symptom a disease

Of course, by looking at the tongue one can predict various health problems. However, this requires the insight of a doctor, a specialist. Self-diagnosis on the basis of articles from the Internet is not enough.

Therefore, with the long-term occurrence of plaque and discoloration of the tongue, a professional examination is necessary.


  • diseases of the digestive system
  • metabolic diseases and metabolic disorders, as well as diabetes
  • iron deficiency or anaemia
  • diseases of the cardiovascular system
  • bacterial and yeast infections
  • inflammation of the respiratory tract and oral cavity, gums and tongue
  • and serious oncological diseases

The tongue may be white, red, yellow, green, dark to black, blue or purple, lined, smooth, shiny, resembling a raspberry or strawberry, dry, cracked, map-like, bloody.

= necessary medical examination.

Good to know:
When the tongue of a child changes its colour, we need to check whether the child has eaten, for example,
candy, licked a lollipop, an ice cream, a popsicle, or drunk coloured water, juice, or fruit juice. Food dyes
strongly colour the tongue, lips or mucous membranes of the mouth. 

White tongue as a symptom of infection and sore throat

In the world around us, various bacteria, viruses, yeasts and other microorganisms are lurking. And sometimes there is an outbreak of infection.


A white tongue is very often a symptom of infection with the yeast Candida albicans.

This yeast infection is also referred to as thrush, or candidiasis.

The latter is commonly found on the surface of the body, on the lining of the mouth and in the intestine and in our surroundings. It is mostly harmless.

However, if the opportunity arises, it will multiply. 

This happens for a variety of reasons, often when taking antibiotics, when the body's immune system is weakened, such as a cold or flu.

In addition to a white tongue, candidiasis in a woman can manifest itself as a vaginal yeast infection.

Learn more about vaginal discharges.

In men, the glans of the penis may turn whitish for the same reason.

This is a common problem among sexually active people who frequently change sexual partners.

Mycoses occur and are complicated in people with weakened immunity, HIV / AIDS, after chemotherapy, in oncological diseases, after transplantation, when taking drugs to blunt the body's immunity.

White tongue in children

Have you heard about the disease, which is typical for the childhood period and occurs in large numbers especially in young children, newborns, infants or toddlers?

Are you familiar with thrush?

This is a mycotic, yeast or fungal infection affecting the mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue.

It is reported to affect approximately 5 to 15% of children of this period.

Yeast can be passed on to the baby from the mother during childbirth, but also during breastfeeding. 

No, the mother is not infectious, but this yeast is commonly found on surfaces and in the human body.

The child's immunity is not yet fully developed and armed. Thus, candidiasis has a greater chance of succeeding.

Learn more about oral thrush:

  • manifests itself in the form of a white film (coating)
  • predominantly on the palate, tongue and the mucosa lining the inside of the cheek
  • its appearance resembles curdled milk
    • milky spots
    • cannot be wiped off
    • whitish to slightly yellowish discolouration may be present
    • there may be some bleeding

Unlike curdled milk, it cannot be removed mechanically

In an unnecessary effort to clean the mouth and tongue, you can damage the mucous membranes, which will bleed.

Thrush is painful. The child may be cranky, or may refuse to eat.

In addition, in this disease, there is a two-way transmission of infection:

from the mother's nipple to the baby, or vice versa, from the baby to the nursing woman's nipple.

Therefore, at the time of infection, it is necessary to feed the baby with a bottle after each use to wash thoroughly.

What about other causes?

Does white tongue occur for other reasons?

Yes, it doees.

As already hinted, we know several reasons for the change in the colour of the tongue. Examples:

  • tonsillitis, if, in addition to a white coating on the tongue, there is also a sore throat and pain when swallowing
  • herpetic inflammation of the tongue and oral cavity - herpetic stomatitis
  • scarlet fever, another infectious disease, mainly in children under 12 years of age, manifested by fever, tonsillitis and skin rash, caused by streptococcal infection
  • iron deficiency - pale tongue and mucous membrane of the oral cavity, also manifestation of anaemia
  • B vitamin deficiency
  • distinctly white plaque in typhoid fever
  • lingua geographica - geographic tongue - changing whitish surface and red-lined bearings
  • leukoplakia - whitish areas on the mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue, especially in smokers, cause unknown, mucosal disorder may develop into cancer
  • hairy leukoplakia - in immune deficiency, infectious mononucleosis, HIV
  • alcoholism
  • common diseases of the upper respiratory tract, sinuses, nasopharynx, such as rhinitis, colds, flu and others
  • thrush - recurrent aphthous stomatitis, non-infectious defects on the mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue, yellow, white to grey boils

In addition to the aesthetic problem, there may be other issues, for example:

  • pain in the tongue and mucous membranes of the mouth, burning, stinging
  • changes in taste and impaired taste perception
  • bleeding from the tongue and gums
  • chapped lips, tongue
  • irritated corners of the mouth
  • sore throat and difficulty swallowing
  • lack of appetite and refusal of food, a significant symptom in young children
  • increase in body temperature to fever
  • boils in the mouth and on the tongue
  • prolonged and excessively dry mouth, rheumatic disease - Sjogren's syndrome
  • sore nipples - nursing mothers
  • chemical and mechanical irritation of the tongue

Treatment of white tongue

How can the white film be removed from the tongue?

You can use a regular toothbrush to remove the white layer on the tongue; tongue scrapers or an ordinary spoon are effective, too. 

tongue scraper
A tongue scraper. Photo: Getty Images

It is important...

...to maintain oral hygiene.

Neglecting oral hygiene causes tooth decay (caries), gum diseases and other infections in this area of the human body.

Regular preventive check-ups at the dentist's and, if necessary, oral hygiene checked by a dental hygienist are also beneficial.

Prevention starts with choosing the right product to keep your mouth, teeth and tongue clean. A variety of toothbrushes, floss, douches, mouthwashes, solutions, toothpastes and more are available.

The primary goal of treatment is to determine the exact cause. Then, the appropriate solution is then chosen.

The following need to be taken into account:

  • recent consumption of food and drink
  • is there any dehydration? + hydration level
  • dry mouth
  • diarrhea, vomiting, frequent urination
  • level of hygiene, bad breath
  • excessive smoking and alcoholism
  • treatment with antibiotics
  • another ongoing acute illness
  • the presence of long-term illness, diabetes etc.
  • compromised immunity (HIV, AIDS, immune deficiency due to other diseases, transplantation, treatment with immunosuppressive drugs)
  • corticosteroid treatment
  • taking hormonal contraceptives
  • having multipke sexual partners and being sexually active
  • overall lifestyle
  • excessive fatigue and lack of rest, similar to herpes

Subsequently, treatment is selected according to the provoking stimulus.

Pharmacological treatment, i.e. medications, are effective, for example, against bacterial infection, when an antibiotic is chosen, in virosis it is a symptomatic treatment, candidiasis is treated with antifungals.

They are used medicines in the form of tablets, topical sucking tablets, but also as mouthwashes and disinfectants, gels, ointments and other means.

In another case, it is advisable to supplement iron or overall minerals and vitamins, especially from the B group.

For hard and pathologically altered defects, a surgical approach (scalpel, laser, freezing) is chosen. For oncological diseases of the oral cavity and tongue, surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy are chosen.

Due to the possible variability of the causes, in case of long-term occurrence and in case of association with other problems, it is necessary to seek professional help. The first choice is a general practitioner for adults or children or a dentist.

Why does my tongue get white or yellow?

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Interesting resources

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