White Tongue Causes & Cures

Do you have a lingering coating of white gunk on your tongue? And with brushing and mouthwash, does it come back every time? While there are many different causes of white tongue or hairy tongue as it is sometimes called, each is difficult to deal with. There are at-home and professional treatments available, but to know how to treat your white mouth, you need to know what it is and what causes it.

We’ll cover everything you need to know in this article. If your problems persist longer than a few weeks after applying our tips, contact the professionals at Applewood Dental for further consultation.

What is White Tongue?

A white tongue is usually caused when bacteria, organic debris, or dead cells get trapped between the papillae, the hair-like structures on your tongue. Papillae grow large and swell, and sometimes get inflamed. That’s when you get a white patch on your tongue.

There are many causes of white tongue, and some require specific treatment. Let’s get into the now.

Who is Most at Risk for White Tongue?

There are certain habits, substances, and habits that can put you at a higher risk of getting a white tongue. Here are a few common risk factors, but keep in mind that it’s not expansive!

  • Diabetes
  • Age
  • Antibiotic use
  • Cancer treatment
  • Tobacco use
  • Dehydration
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Alcohol use

There are other risk factors than what we’ve covered here. Sometimes it boils down to bad luck!

Why is My Tongue White?

There are several conditions that cause white tongue:

  • Hairy Tongue: Leukoplakia is a  common condition caused by an overgrowth of cells in the mouth’s lining. When combined with the protein keratin, a white patch forms. You can get this condition through repeated exposure to irritations like alcohol or nicotine. That being said, sometimes there is no obvious cause. Leukoplakia isn’t usually serious, but sometimes, it can become cancerous when prolonged. It is also a common symptom of the Epstein-Barr
  • Mouth Fungus: Oral thrush is a mouth infection caused by the Canida yeast (fungus). Normally, a tolerable amount can be found in your mouth. But with poor hygiene and dietary habits, you can get imbalanced growth.
  • Tongue Rash: Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory mouth condition often caused by an immune system disorder.
  • Geographic Tongue: When your tongue is regrowing, parts of the upper layer of skin on your tongue shed quickly, leaving tender areas that can get infected. With varying healing speeds across your tongue, a white patch can form.
  • Syphilis: Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is sexually transmitted. It’s a very serious condition that requires antibiotic treatment. One of the symptoms to watch out for is a white tongue. But as you can see, there are many other causes.
  • Mouth Cancer: If you’re at high risk for mouth cancer, a white tongue is one of the symptoms to watch out for. There are various surgical options to completely remove the white patch, thus reducing the risk of it developing into mouth cancer.

Now that we understand the various causes of white tongue, it’s time to explore its symptoms.


While white tongue usually isn’t very serious, there are a few commonly reported symptoms that cause quite a hassle. If you have any of the following, you might have one of the previously mentioned causes of white tongue.

  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste
  • Inflammation
  • Gum disease
  • Decreased taste

The symptoms vary from annoying to seriously problematic. So with that in mind, what can you do to treat white mouth?

Home Remedies for White Tongue

Under normal circumstances, white tongue is easy to treat. Often it just requires strong oral hygiene habits. That means there are some simple ways to address the problem. In general, to combat white tongue you can do the following preventative measures:

  • Drink more water
  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Use a mild fluoride toothpaste
  • Avoid irritating substances like alcohol and nicotine
  • Attend regular dental appointments

To treat white tongue at home, you can try the following:

  • Use a tongue-scraper
  • Try antiseptic mouthwash
  • Use an over-the-counter antifungal medicine

There are a few natural remedies that have support online, but further research is required to fully understand the effectiveness of these treatments. If you’re looking for natural products to use to combat white tongue, give us a call at 705-436-5777 and we’ll discuss some options.

When to See the Dentist for White Tongue

The good news is that unless your white tongue persists for several weeks, you likely don’t need to consult a doctor or dentist about it. If after trying a few home remedies and improving your habits you still have a persisting white tongue, then it’s time for professional consultation.

Your doctor or dentist will evaluate your case by examining your mouth and medical history. In rare instances, they’ll order a biopsy for the skin on your tongue.

At this point, serious conditions will be ruled out while you and your medical provider discuss treatment options.

How to Prevent Hairy Tongue

Here’s a summary of good habits that will help you prevent white tongue in the future:

  • Brush twice a day
  • Brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper
  • Floss
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash
  • Avoid irritants and damage

As you can see, the trick to avoiding white mouth in the future is to adjust your habits. The more you reduce plaque and bacteria, the less likely you are to develop any oral health issues. Long-term care is often the best solution to any problem!

General and Specialized Dentistry at Applewood Dental

From our look into white tongue, you’ll see that there are many causes. And while the symptoms are annoying, in most cases, white tongue is treatable and removed within a matter of days or weeks. In the instances where it remains past this timeframe, give your dentist or doctor a call.

Whether it’s a regular checkup or cleaning, or a special treatment to get you to a whiter and better-aligned smile, Applewood Dental can help you with your journey to a better smile. Our family-friendly practice guarantees a safe and relaxed environment for you to receive treatment. Located in Innisfil Ontario just north of the GTA, we are proud to serve our local community and their dental needs. So take a look at our dental services here and discover how you can improve your smile with Applewood Dental.