What is white tongue?
A white coating on tongue can be somewhat shocking. White teeth are acceptable, but what about yellow coating or white tongue? It can come as a surprise. Perhaps you noticed it—a milky white film covering the middle and back of the tongue—for the first time one morning while brushing your teeth.
You start to panic, and you ask Dr. Google about this mysterious problem. After all, it’s something you’ve never seen before, and you may be thinking the worst.
However, when the tongue is a light red or pink and has a light white coating, there is likely nothing to worry about. The white or yellow tongue coating is often temporary and harmless.
At the same time, there may be an underlying problem or condition in the body that needs to be addressed, especially when there is a thick white coating. The issue may range from an infection to something more serious, such as cancer.
What Does it Mean When You Have a White Tongue?
Your tongue is covered with papillae, and that is what helps you distinguish between tastes. If you have a white coating on the entire tongue, it’s likely due to inflamed papillae caused by a buildup of bacteria, debris, fungus, and dead cells.
In general, this problem isn’t the result of an illness; it’s caused by dryness of the mouth, dehydration, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and poor oral hygiene. Most often, it’s due to a bacterial infection. For instance, it can be Candida, a fungus which causes yeast infections or oral thrush. Other times, the problem can be more serious, where a white coating on the tongue happens when you’re sick.
In cases of an infection like scarlet fever, you may have a white tongue with red spots. Sometimes, a white tongue and a sore throat may be due to strep throat. Other possible infections include a chronic autoimmune disorder called oral lichen planus, or bacterial infections such as syphilis or periodontal disease. A white tongue may also be a sign of a pre-cancerous condition called leukoplakia, a geographic tongue, and HIV/AIDS.
What a Thick Coating on the Tongue Reveals About Your Digestive Health
A thick white coating on the tongue also reveals a lot about a person’s digestive health. It indicates an impaired immune system; especially considering that 70 to 80% of the immune system is located in the digestive system.
A thick white coating on the back of the tongue or at the center may indicate an overloaded digestive system. At this stage, there is also yeast or bacteria overgrowth in the digestive system. The color of the coating will depend on the person, and may look either yellow or white.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the tongue is an important diagnostic tool for evaluating the meridians and internal organs of the body, including in the digestive system. A pale and moist tongue with a thick white coating is an indication of damp-cold or excessive dampness.
If the coating looks like a white, thick powder, it is a sign of external pathogenic heat and turbidity. If the tongue looks so white that it resembles snow, it may indicate spleen yang exhaustion. Root causes of poor digestion include high stress, gut flora imbalances (dysbiosis), and nutritional deficiencies.
White Tongue Causes
- Dehydration or dry mouth: Dry mouth is also called xerostomia. Mild dehydration in the mouth can cause a white coating on the tongue. Saliva acts as a buffering agent to break up bacteria on the tongue; a dry tongue or dehydrated mouth will collect debris, and if there isn’t enough spit to rinse it away, the tongue may turn white.
- Oral thrush: A thick and white-coated tongue may indicate the presence of Candida. As a result, there are cottage-cheese-like patches on the tongue.
- Poor oral hygiene: Oral hygiene is very important. When a person does not brush or scrape their tongue on a regular basis, a white coating may result.
- Reactions to certain medications: Medications that cause a white coating on the tongue include antibiotics or steroid drugs used for conditions like asthma or sinusitis.
White Tongue Symptoms
Besides a thick white tongue coating, other symptoms may also be present, especially when digestion and Candida are at the root of the problem. Often, a white coating on the tongue and bad breath will show up together, or you may have a metallic taste in the mouth. Here are some other symptoms.
- Cravings for sugar, foods rich in carbohydrates, or yeast, including breads or sweets
- Chronic fatigue and loss of energy
- Gas and bloating
- Altered bowel function and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and colitis
- Depression, confusion, or a poor memory
- Muscle aches, weakness, or paralysis
- A decreased libido or impotence
- Other conditions associated with a white tongue coating include psoriasis, eczema, and sensitivities to chemicals, foods, and other allergens
How to Reduce a White Coating on the Tongue Naturally*
The likely problem with a white tongue coating is Candida. As a result, it’s important to focus on creating balance in the digestive system. Luckily, there are a number of natural ways to remove the white tongue coating and improve digestion at the same time.
1. Garlic Supplementation
Garlic has long demonstrated potent antifungal activity. Research has shown that garlic can inhibit Candida albicans in both test tube and animal studies. The active ingredient in garlic is called allicin. The recommended dose of aged garlic extract is 500 to 1,000 milligrams twice daily to fight fungal infections and boost immunity.
2. Oral Hygiene
Proper oral hygiene is very important, especially when you have oral thrush and a white tongue. Brush your teeth and gums a minimum of twice each day, including after meals. Use a metal or copper tongue scraper after brushing to help remove the white film from the tongue, and use a natural antibacterial mouthwash. Also, be sure to change your toothbrush every month to avoid re-infecting yourself with a white tongue. This will also help with bad breath from white tongue.
Intestinal flora plays a major part in digestion, and an imbalance of the good bacteria can lead to Candida, oral thrush, and a white tongue coating. A high-quality probiotic supplement can help balance the bacteria in the body and treat and prevent Candida-related problems. It’s recommended to take a probiotic twice daily, and one with five to 10 billion active organisms.
4. Berberine-Containing Plants
The alkaloid berberine is known for its antibiotic activity. Plants that contain berberine include goldthread, Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenseal. These herbal remedies can be made into a tincture, a fluid extract, or a powdered extract, or the dried root can be infused into a tea.
5. Enteric-Coated Volatile Oils
The volatile oil of rosemary, peppermint, thyme, and oregano are all considered potent antifungal agents. Some studies have even found that oregano oil is 100 times more potent than a popular anti-Candida remedy called caprylic acid. Volatile oils are quickly absorbed and may lead to heartburn. As a result, they should be taken with an enteric coating.
6. Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice used to treat a white tongue coating. Before you brush your teeth in the morning, swish a tablespoon of either extra virgin coconut oil or pumpkin seed oil in your mouth for about 15 minutes. Then spit out the oil, and rinse your mouth with warm water.
7. Reduce Stress
High stress levels are also linked with Candida and white tongue-related infections, but stress can be reduced through many methods, including exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, or prayer. Spending time in nature can also help reduce stress and make you less prone to a white tongue.
The homeopathic Candida albicans preparation can help stimulate the immune system to target candida organisms. It’s recommended to take two pellets of the homeopathic Candida albicans 6x, 12x, or 30x three times per day. For men, mercurius solubilis is another remedy used for oral thrush.
Certain acupressure points can also help relieve the nervousness and stress associated with white tongue. Massage the liver 3 (LV3) and large intestine 4 (LI4) acupressure points.
Aromatherapy can be useful in the treatment of oral thrush. Useful essential oils include tea tree oil, chamomile, lavender, peppermint, rose, and myrrh.
Herbal Remedies to Treat a White Coating on the Tongue
Other white coating on the tongue treatments include herbs such as
- milk thistle
- pau d’arco
- grapefruit seed extract
- gentian root
- oregano oil.
Natural Remedies to Treat a White Coating on the Tongue
There are also other natural remedies for a white coating on the tongue such as
- digestive enzymes
- caprylic acid
- betaine HCL (hydrochloric acid)
Dangers Associated with a Thick White Coating on the Tongue
Although a white tongue coating is not considered dangerous on its own, it may develop into more serious problems.
- Leukoplakia: Some white patches on the tongue are due to leukoplakia, which is thought to be pre-cancerous. In leukoplakia, there is an overproduction of mouth cells and keratin. Instead of a film on the tongue, there are noticeable white patches from a surplus of cells. Smoking and consistent alcohol consumption are notable causes of leukoplakia.
- Oral lichen planus: Oral lichen planus is a long-term autoimmune disorder that will cause white streaks and a coating on the tongue. Mild oral lichen planus cases are not thought to cause discomfort or pain. Other times it will lead to painful gums and sore patches in the mouth lining.
- Syphilis: Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through sex. The condition can cause small sores on the tongue from oral sex, and it can appear 10 days to three months after initial exposure. If untreated, syphilis can lead to syphilitic leukoplakia, which is characterized by white plaques on the tongue.
- Periodontal disease: When you don’t practice oral hygiene, periodontal disease may be the result. It’s a bacterial infection that affects the gums and support structures of the mouth. Periodontal disease can lead to tongue discoloration such as a white coating.
When to See the Doctor
If you see a white coating on tongue, ask your dentist about it on your next visit. If you’re not already using a tongue scraper they will likely recommend it. If the white coating continues to be a problem, then tell your doctor, especially if your tongue hurts and the condition lasts longer than a few weeks. You can also visit practitioners with a greater focus on natural medicine, including a naturopathic doctor, a holistic doctor, or a traditional Chinese medicine doctor.
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Sources for Today’s Article:
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 128–133.
Murray, M., M.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 376–387.
“White Tongue Symptoms & Signs,” MedicineNet web site; http://www.medicinenet.com/white_tongue/symptoms.htm, last reviewed April 24, 2015.
“Coated or White Tongue,” NHS Choices web site; http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coated-tongue/Pages/Introduction.aspx, last accessed March 11, 2016.
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