Why Is My Tongue White?

Wisdom Teeth Durham NCHundreds of different bacteria species thrive in the moist, dark environment of our mouths. Most of these are harmless to us and even help with digestion. But sometimes, an overgrowth of bacteria, immune deficiency diseases, or other pre-existing health conditions can cause tongue discoloration or other mouth symptoms. If you’ve noticed your tongue doesn’t appear smooth and pink as it should, these four white tongue causes might be to blame. Durham, NC dentist Dr. Brent Blaylock can help you uncover the cause of your white tongue and help achieve a healthy mouth.

Causes of White Tongue Discoloration

You may already be familiar with the “mouth-body link,” which is the close relationship between your oral health and your overall health- how one can cause or reflect the other. For example: oral health problems can cause health problems like heart disease, but the link goes both ways, as systemic illnesses, like immunodeficiencies, can often appear in the mouth, such as lesions associated with HIV.

Here are just four possible causes of white tongue and what to do about it:

1. Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is a common condition that can cause a white or yellow film to form on the tongue and even make eating and drinking uncomfortable. Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth, which can be a result of poor oral hygiene, a weakened immune system, or even a side effect of antibiotics.

Treatment for oral thrush involves antifungal medication, adding an effective mouthwash to your routine, and also excellent oral hygiene. Some oral thrush resolves on its own with proper oral care. Your doctor may also recommend adding probiotics to your diet if you experience oral thrush as a result of antibiotics.

2. Oral lichen planus

An autoimmune inflammatory response can cause white patches to form in the mouth and cause sore gums. Most of the time, oral lichen planus resolves on its own, but some cases require a steroid mouth rinse or a steroid spray to remedy.

3. Poor Oral Hygiene

Most of the time, a white tongue is a result of poor oral hygiene. Your tongue has small bumps called papillae, which can become swollen, inflamed, and discolored if there is an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, or even due to dehydration. Consider adding a tongue scraper to your oral hygiene routine and using an ADA-accepted mouthwash to help with bacterial buildup.

4. Leukoplakia

Leukoplakia causes white patches to form inside the cheeks, on the tongue, and along the gums. People who smoke, chew tobacco, or consume excessive amounts of alcohol are at increased risk of leukoplakia. In most cases, these white patches are harmless, but in rare cases, leukoplakia can evolve into oral cancer. See your healthcare provider or dentist if you notice white patches in the mouth that do not go away.

White Tongue Treatment in Durham, NC

Although most cases of white tongue resolve on their own, it’s still a good idea to visit your dentist to receive a correct diagnosis. Don’t wait until it’s too late to identify a problem with your smile. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Blaylock online or call us at 919.518.9963 if you’re in the Durham, NC, area and need dental care.


3206 Old Chapel Hill Road
Suite 300
Durham, NC 27707

Schedule Appointment

new patients 984-213-4695

current patients 919-493-8036


Monday: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Tuesday: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Wednesday: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Thursday: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Friday: Closed