Most of the time, our tongue is a pink hue with healthy nodules, or papillae, but when it has a white covering, it’s time to take a look at our health. Even ancient Chinese tradition diagnoses health conditions based on the appearance of the tongue.
Since our tongue is one of our strongest muscles and is responsible for our eating, talking, and swallowing abilities, any changes must be taken seriously. A white tongue itself is harmless; however, it can tell a tale of an underlying health issue. We will look at the causes and discuss possible remedies for getting rid of white tongue.
What Causes White Tongue?
As mentioned, our tongue is normally pink with small, rough nodules that are covered by our taste buds. A white tongue indicates there is bacteria, debris, or food implanted between the nodules. Sometimes it is only temporary, but it can also be a sign of a serious condition. The 10 most common causes are listed below.
1. Dehydration is the most common cause of white tongue. Also known as dry mouth, this condition occurs when there is a decrease of saliva production by the salivary glands in our mouth. Being unusually dry is a side effect of some medications.
2. Poor oral hygiene is an easily preventable cause of white tongue. You can decrease the chances of having it by brushing your tongue and teeth at least twice a day.
3. Fever occurs when your body temperature rises and is often accompanied by a white tongue.
4. Infection can be first noticed by a white tongue. Several infections noted include a bacterial infection such as strep throat, oral herpes virus infection, syphilis, and hairy leukoplakia, seen mostly in HIV/AIDS patients.
5. Oral thrush is a very common infection caused by a candida yeast infection. Our tongue functions and appears normal with this type of fungus existing on it; however, an overgrowth causes major issues. It can spread to the roof and back of the mouth, creating white tongue among other symptoms. Babies, elderly people, and those with low immune systems are at high risk for oral thrush.
6. Medication can produce white tongue as the body’s reaction to certain components in antibiotics and steroids. It can also coincide with dry mouth, which causes white tongue.
7. Tobacco use, whether chewing or smoking, can often cause white tongue. Alcohol abuse can also lead to white tongue.
8. Congenital heart disease refers to an abnormality of the heart and a white tongue can be an indicator of this condition in babies.
9. Food that is spicy such as jalapenos or a diet that is not well-balanced with proper nutrients and minerals can present as white tongue.
10. Tongue or oral cancer can also cause white tongue to appear as a symptom of the infection human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Signs and Symptoms of White Tongue
White tongue can be a symptom in itself or may even be exposed due to other symptoms.
- Bad breath
- Loss of appetite
- Burning sensation
- Swollen tongue
- Chewing difficulty
- Dry mouth
- Swollen gums
- Rough tongue surface
- Rash or blister near mouth
- Fatigue and other flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, cough, fever, body aches
There are a number of life-threatening symptoms that require immediate medical attention and anyone with the following signs should call 911.
- Bluish-color nails and fingers
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing blood
- Tongue appearing warm and red
How to Get Rid of White Tongue
When the white coating on your tongue seems unusual but doesn’t require immediate medical attention, there are several natural remedies for white tongue to try at home. Try any of the following recommended by Dr. Josh Axe.
Probiotics, whether through your diet or as a supplement, are key to maintain good health, especially for your oral health. As probiotics inhibit bacteria growth, they are a good defense in tongue inflammation. Add yogurt, miso soup, pickles, dark chocolate, and sauerkraut, just to mention a few, to your diet today.
Baking soda can be thought of as an exfoliant for your tongue as it removes bacteria cells and neutralizes acid, ensuring balanced pH levels. Brush your teeth and entire mouth with a mixture of one teaspoon of baking soda and lemon juice.
Coconut oil pulling has become a popular cleaning technique in the mainstream media over the past several years. The Indian holistic practice of Ayurveda believes the oil pulling purifies the entire body as sections of the tongue effect parts of the body. The mouth becomes free of toxins and debris, thereby, ridding the white tongue disorder. Use one tablespoon of coconut oil to move around the inner mouth by using your teeth and tongue. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes, spit out the oil, rinse mouth with warm water and brush teeth.
Sea salt is one of the most common and natural remedies to remove bacteria. As an exfoliant, it also removes the coating of white tongue. Its natural components may enhance your body cells. Mix with water to use as a rinse. You can also use it to brush your tongue and teeth.
Aloe vera has been used for centuries for various ailments and health conditions and eliminating white tongue is no different. The antifungal and anti-inflammatory components remove the dead cells on the tongue. Rinse your mouth two to three times a day with one tablespoon of aloe vera juice.
Colloidal silver has healing properties as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal . Of the infectious virus’ and bacteria diseases it has been proven to treat, such as herpes and pink eye, white tongue is one of many symptoms it removes. Mix equal parts of colloidal silver and water to rinse your mouth five minutes, two times a day.
Garlic contains allicin, a compound said to fight the fungal bacteria candidiasis. By using an organic raw garlic supplement or one clove each day, you can treat white tongue that is caused by oral thrush.
Oregano oil is a natural antibiotic with antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The oil has been proven to successfully treat candida and would prevent oral thrush, in a 2010 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology.
Pau d’arco tea has been used for years to fight inflammation and fungal bacteria. It is supreme in the fight against oral thrush and white tongue. Add two cups of the tree bark to four cups of boiling water and let it seep for 20 minutes. Let it cool for an hour before straining the tea and drinking it throughout the day.
Tongue scraping may sound strange, but it is a tool in the fight against mouth disease including white tongue. Another Ayurveda practice, this not only removes the dead cells and bacteria but also helps with bad breath removal.
When to See a Doctor
White tongue can be easily treated with these remedies in the comfort of your own home. If the white tongue is not completely treated after a few weeks, speak to your health practitioner. You may also want to seek medical advice if there are physical changes in your tongue or if it is causing any form of pain.
The white film on your tongue can be as harmless as mild bacteria growth that can be brushed away or it may be a sign of a serious health issue. If you notice white tongue, there are natural home remedies to try. Many of the products used can be found in your kitchen cupboards.
Contact your doctor if your white tongue does not improve or if you are experiencing any of the life-threatening conditions discussed.
“White Tongue”, Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/white-tongue/basics/causes/sym-20050676, last accessed January 30, 2017.