White Tongue Symptoms & Signs
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Whitening of the tongue can occur when there is a buildup or coating of bacteria and debris on the surface of the tongue due to mild dehydration, illness (when there is less use of the tongue for talking or eating), or dryness of the mouth. A whitening of the top layer of the tongue or the presence of white spots or patches on the tongue can also be seen with infection, irritation, or chronic inflammation of the surface of the tongue. Certain oral infections, notably Candida yeast infections (known as oral thrush), are characterized by a white tongue. In contrast, some infections, like scarlet fever, can produce red spots on the tongue. Inflammation and whitening of the tongue can also occur due to dryness or environmental irritants such as smoking or other tobacco use, and may be associated with bad breath. Inflammation of the tongue is known as glossitis. Some white patches on the tongue, known as leukoplakia, can be precancerous lesions. Geographic tongue is a condition in which some areas of the tongue lack the papillae normally present on the tongue surface, resulting in irregular red patches on the tongue with a white border.
Health concern on your mind? Visit the Symptom Checker.
Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.
Causes of White Tongue
In This ArticleCancer Article
- Cancer facts
- What is cancer?
- What causes cancer?
- What are cancer symptoms and signs?
- What are the different types of cancer?
- How is cancer diagnosed?
- How is cancer staging determined?
- What is the treatment for cancer?
- Are there home remedies or alternative treatments for cancer?
- What is the prognosis for cancer?
- Can cancer be prevented?
- Where can people find more information about cancer?
In This ArticleDry Mouth (Xerostomia) Article
- What is dry mouth?
- How common is dry mouth?
- What are the benefits of saliva?
- What causes dry mouth?
- What are the signs and symptoms of dry mouth?
- How do health care professionals diagnose dry mouth?
- What is the treatment for dry mouth?
- Is it possible to prevent dry mouth?
- What is the prognosis of dry mouth?
In This ArticleIs a Yeast Infection Contagious? Article
- What are yeast?
- Is a yeast infection contagious?
- How do I know if I have a yeast infection?
- How will I know if I am cured of a yeast infection?
- When should I seek medical care for yeast infection?
In This ArticleIs Scarlet Fever Contagious? Article
- What is scarlet fever?
- Is scarlet fever contagious?
- How will I know if I have scarlet fever?
- How is scarlet fever transmitted?
- When will I know I am cured of scarlet fever?
- When should I contact a physician about scarlet fever?
In This ArticleLeukoplakia Article
- What causes Leukoplakia?
- What are the symptoms?
- How is Leukoplakia diagnosed?
- How is Leukoplakia treated?
In This ArticleLichen Planus Article
- Lichen planus facts
- What is lichen planus?
- What causes lichen planus?
- How is the rash of lichen planus different from that of most other common rashes?
- What are lichen planus symptoms and signs?
- What does lichen planus look like?
- How is lichen planus diagnosed?
- Are there home remedies for lichen planus?
- What is the treatment for lichen planus?
- What is the long-term prognosis of lichen planus?
In This ArticleSmoking (How to Quit Smoking) Article
- Smoking and quitting smoking facts
- What problems are caused by smoking?
- What are the symptoms and signs of cigarette addiction?
- What are the steps in quitting?
- Getting ready to quit smoking
- On the day you quit smoking
- Staying quit
- What methods can help a person quit smoking?
- Nicotine replacement therapy to quit smoking
- Nicotine patches
- Nicorette gum
- Nicotine lozenges
- What prescription products are available for smoking cessation?
- How can nicotine-containing products be used safely?
- What are e-cigarettes?
- Is an e-cigarette harmful?
- Is secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes harmful?
- What is in the future for smoking?
In This ArticleThrush and Other Yeast Infections in Children Article
- What are yeast infections?
- Why do yeast sometimes cause symptoms and signs?
- How do babies get yeast infections?
- What is oral thrush? What are oral thrush symptoms and signs?
- How do children (and adults) acquire thrush?
- How does yeast affect diaper rash?
- Can thumb sucking cause problems with yeast?
- Can a nursing mother acquire yeast infections from her infant?
- What is the treatment for thrush and other yeast infections?
- What if the medication does not effectively treat the yeast infection?
- Should a child with yeast infection be kept out of child care?
- Are there other names for yeast infection?
In This ArticleTongue Problems Article
- Tongue facts
- What are common tongue problems?
- What causes tongue problems?
- What are the risk factors for tongue problems?
- White tongue
- Red tongue
- Black tongue
- Increased size or tongue swelling
- Growths on the tongue
- Abnormalities of the tongue surface
- Tongue pain
- Altered sensation of the tongue
- Taste problems
- Problems with tongue movement
- What are tongue problems in infants and children?
- What are tongue problems in pregnancy?
- How do health-care professionals diagnose tongue problems?
- Are there home remedies for tongue problems?
- What are the treatments for tongue problems?
- Is it possible to prevent tongue problems?
- What is the prognosis for tongue problems?
Other Causes of White Tongue
- Geographic Tongue
- Prolonged Mouth Breathing
Examples of Medications for White Tongue
Symptoms & Signs A-Z List
WebMD Oral Health
Get tips for a healthy mouth.