What is a white tongue?

A white tongue is white discoloration of all or a part of the tongue, an organ that is composed mainly of muscle. Your tongue may look like it has a white coating or white patches or spots, and may or may not be painful.

A white tongue may be caused by a coating of dead cells and debris, which can accumulate due to poor oral hygiene, excessive alcohol use, smoking, or dehydration. In some cases, this debris can be scraped or cleaned off. A white tongue can also be a symptom of a variety of other disorders and diseases, including infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy (cancer), and other abnormal processes.

Seek prompt medical care and discuss your symptoms with a medical professional, because a white tongue can be a sign of a serious disease or condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have severe pain, tongue swelling, shortness of breath, or a change in consciousness.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with a white tongue?

A white tongue may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Common symptoms include:  

CAUSES

What causes a white tongue?

In many cases, a white coating on the tongue is caused by a layer of dead skin cells and debris that can be cleaned or scraped off the tongue. Some common conditions that lead to a visible white layer include dehydration, poor oral hygiene, excessive alcohol use, and smoking tobacco. A white tongue can also be a symptom of a variety of other disorders and diseases, such as a bacterial infection... Read more about white tonguecauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health