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Why is My Tongue White?

When you were little, it might have been considered cute to stick your tongue out at that overly affectionate, cheek-pinching aunt. But now when you stick your tongue out, it is not only considered rude (unless your aunt still pinches your cheek 😉) but you look and see your tongue is…white!  So no longer cute…and yucky. But why?

What exactly is white tongue?

We don’t mean how your tongue looks after drinking a glass of milk but, rather, a coating that is the result of the accumulation of debris, dead cells, and bacteria that lodge between inflamed or enlarged papillae on the tongue. The papillae are those little fingerlike projections on the tongue, some of which contain taste buds. When they get irritated, enlarged or inflamed they trap particles that otherwise do not rest on the tongue.

What causes papillae to become inflamed?

There are a number of different reasons your papillae can become inflamed, including:

  • Smoking or oral tobacco use
  • Excessive alcoholic consumption
  • Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose
  • Eating only soft foods – you need some roughage for natural cleansing
  • Irritation from dental appliances
  • Irritation from sharp edges on teeth
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Poor dental hygiene – you need to eliminate the biofilm from your tongue with proper cleaning

My tongue isn’t all white – just some funny patches…?

There are other causes of white patches or miscellaneous discolorations of the tongue, including:

  • Oral cancers or syphilis
  • Thrush (overgrowth of a normal fungus in the mouth)
  • Geographic tongue (Harmless, but a condition where patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae and appear smooth)
  • Use of certain medications (some antibiotics, for example, can cause an oral yeast infection)
  • Leukoplakia (white patches that can’t be scraped off, often associated with tobacco use)
  • Immunosuppression or autoimmune issues

So what do I do to treat white tongue?

There are causes of white tongue that are controllable, if not preventable.

  • Stay hydrated – dry mouth is a major culprit.
  • Be sure you have no sharp edges on your teeth or dental appliances
  • Eat a balanced diet – and that includes texture as well as content. You know, that “crunch factor”? it is a natural scraper!
  • Stop smoking! This is a major contributor to not just the health of your tongue, but to the rest of your health!
  • Reduce alcoholic consumption
  • Consult your physician if you are a constant mouth breather. You may have allergies or another respiratory issue that can be controlled.
  • See your dentist regularly to maintain optimum oral health.

Then, go ahead and stick your tongue out at that cheek-pinching aunt! 😉



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