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What is White Tongue?
Ever stick out your tongue, look in the mirror, and wonder, “Why is my tongue white?” or “what is this white film on my tongue?” A white coated tongue occurs when you have an overgrowth and swelling of papillae on your tongue. If you look closely at the surface of your tongue, you might notice micro-fingerlike projections. These are papillae, and there are four different types on your tongue.
The papillae on your tongue are responsible for communicating “sweet” or “sour” with nearby taste buds. When there is a white coating on the tongue, it is inflamed and as a result, doesn’t function properly.
White film on the tongue may have many causes. Leading an unhealthy lifestyle may be responsible for your white tongue, particularly if you smoke tobacco, use chewing tobacco, use alcohol, or have a low roughage diet (such as mainly eating soft foods).
Stress, which is notorious for wreaking havoc on our bodies, can also be a cause of an unpleasant film on the surface of your tongue. Other causes may include poor oral hygiene habits, irritation from sharp teeth or dentures, mouth breathing, fever, and even oral cancer.
If you have white patches or a yellow tongue, you may have a particular condition. We will discuss those potential conditions more in-depth below.
Oral Thrush, which is also known as Oral Candidiasis, is a fungal infection in the mouth. The organism, Candida, is a common organism that lives in our mouths, but an overgrowth can lead to an infection. It’s not uncommon to get oral thrush if you take antibiotics.
Oral thrush causes white lesions on your tongue and other parts of your mouth. While oral thrush can affect everyone, babies, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk. It’s a relatively minor infection, but can be more problematic based upon your health.
Like oral thrush, leukoplakia appears on white patches inside your mouth and your tongue. These patches are thick, and the cause of them are somewhat of a mystery. Tobacco use is a suspected culprit, and although it is noncancerous, leukoplakia is often found near areas in the mouth where oral cancer is diagnosed.
Frequent alcohol use is also suspected to be a cause of leukoplakia.
When most of us think about syphilis, we may think about the severe effects of a late stage diagnosis. Syphilis is a bacterial infection and is spread through sexual contact. Syphilis starts as painless sores on the genitals and often in the mouth. These sores may show up a few months after exposure to the infection.
If left untreated, it may lead to hard, white patches on the tongue (much like leukoplakia).
What White Tongue Reveals About Your Digestive Health
Your tongue’s appearance may tell you more about the health of your digestive system than you think. If you notice a white coating on your tongue, it may indicate that you have an overgrowth of Candida (yeast), which means your digestive health is not working properly.
Just as the mouth has a normal and healthy amount of Candida, our intestines also have a good level of the yeast. When working correctly, Candida helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. When your body has too much Candida, it can damage your digestive tract and lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut can result in various gastro issues such as gas, bloating, and food sensitivities. An excess of Candida in your mouth may also indicate GERD (acid reflux).
Symptoms and Signs
The symptoms and signs of issues within the mouth may be different for everyone. If your tongue takes on a white appearance (rather than the healthy and normal pink hue), it is often a telltale sign that something is wrong.
When you have a white tongue, the inflammation may make your tongue feel uncomfortable, and you may notice that your taste buds may be a little “off,” too. Depending on the cause of your white tongue, you may notice sores (like cankers) as well.
When to See a Doctor
Even though a white tongue can indicate a medical condition, it may also be nothing significant and may resolve quickly. Monitor your symptoms and seek medical advice if it worsens or doesn’t get any better. You should also see your doctor if your tongue hurts or you have additional symptoms, such as fever or you feel unwell overall.
A trip to the doctor is never wasted, as it’s always better to make sure you’re in good health than ignore signs and symptoms.
Although anyone can experience white tongue, some individuals are at greater risk than others, and it often depends on the cause.
If you are inactive, eat a poor diet, and are unhealthy overall, you are more at risk of getting a white tongue than someone who has a balanced diet and maintains good health.
Having unprotected sex and engaging in other unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as chronic alcohol and tobacco use, you are at greater risk than someone who doesn’t.
Sometimes your risk factor is that your gut flora is simply out of balance or your life is too busy and chaotic.
Is White Tongue (Thrush) Contagious?
Babies with oral thrush, who breastfeed, can pass the infection to their mother’s breasts and then it gets passed back to the baby’s mouth. Other than this particular passing of the infection, oral thrush is not contagious.
It is important to have your white tongue diagnosed to make sure it is oral thrush rather than another disease that could be transmitted to another person (like syphilis).
Home Remedies for White Tongue
White tongue can be an unpleasant sight and be somewhat bothersome. Fortunately, there are home remedies that can clear up the issue and help the tongue return to a normal and healthy state. The following home remedies are easy to do, and you may have most of the ingredients already at home:
If you suspect that your poor oral health habits are causing a white tongue, you need to make good oral hygiene part of your daily routine.
Good oral hygiene includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing. Experts recommend brushing for about two minutes and focusing on the gum line as well as the inside and outside of teeth. Gently strokes are more effective than brushing vigorously.
Use a fluoride toothpaste and don’t forget to brush your tongue. Investing in a tongue cleaner, a separate device which is designed to clean the surface of the tongue is more effective than a toothbrush.
Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
We use hydrogen peroxide to help kill bacteria from cuts and scrapes. When you use it as a remedy for a white tongue, it helps to kill the bacteria on the surface of the tongue. To make the solution, use 3% hydrogen peroxide and mix one part with two parts water.
Use a soft, clean toothbrush to spread the solution on your tongue. Gently scrape your tongue, spit out the solution, and rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Never swallow the solution or undiluted hydrogen peroxide.
Recommended length for this remedy is three to four days.
The use of baking soda to clean the body is widely acknowledged as valid and effective. There are multiple reasons for this. For one, baking soda is very effective for neutralizing acids, contributing to the maintenance of a balanced pH level in and on the body. Baking soda works as a base, counteracting acidic environments in which fungi usually thrive.
In addition to the above, baking soda can also remove fungus from the surface of your tongue by way of friction. It makes for an excellent exfoliant that is gentle enough not to harm your body when used in moderation.
Garlic often has a bad rep for causing bad breath, but garlic is effective in destroying Candida in the body. An effective garlic remedy includes crushing two to three garlic cloves into a paste and applying the paste to the tongue for about ten minutes and rinsing the mouth with water.
People with a white tongue can try this remedy a few times a day until swelling reduces and the tongue re-gains natural color. If you don’t like the idea of applying fresh garlic directly to your tongue, you may want to try garlic supplements.
Oil pulling is a popular and easy home remedy for removing toxins from your body. Oil pulling is an effective way to treat white tongue and eliminate yeast and bacteria from the tongue.
If you have never tried oil pulling you can use coconut, olive, or sesame oil. Before you brush your teeth, put one tablespoon of oil in your mouth and swish it around in your mouth. Constantly swish for about fifteen minutes. Many people find success with oil pulling while taking a shower.
Never swallow the oil and always spit the oil in the trash, never in the drain. After you spit out the oil, rinse your mouth with warm water and brush your teeth as normal.
Much like hydrogen peroxide, a saltwater solution will help kill bacteria in the mouth. To prepare the solution, mix one teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm (not too hot) water. Swish the solution around in your mouth and spit it out.
You can use this remedy a few times a day until your symptoms improve or disappear.
Yogurt and Probiotics
Probiotics containing L. acidophilus and B. lactis cultures help keep bacteria growth under control. Not only are probiotics good for the mouth, but can benefit your gut, too. There are a few ways to get probiotics. You can either take probiotic supplements (follow the directions on the bottle) or dissolve the contents of a capsule in water and use as a mouthwash.
Yogurt with live cultures is also a great way to increase your intake of bacteria fighting probiotics.
Acupressure is a special form of massage that focuses on using pressure on certain pinpoints in the body. If done correctly, the pressure helps to alleviate pain, discomfort, and other ailments.
For problems with the tongue, you can try to alleviate your symptoms by curling your fingers into the palm of your hand. Then, squeeze your thumb and forefinger together, forming a ridge above the thumb. The pressure point is in the middle of the ridge, on the fleshy part of the outside of your hand. Apply deep pressure with your fingertip or a pencil eraser. Do this for a few minutes.
How to Prevent White Tongue
The best ways to prevent white tongue are to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet, good oral hygiene, and not engaging in risk factors.
Many people use mouthwash as part of their daily oral hygiene routine, but it’s often unnecessary and may cause more harm than good. Many types of mouthwash contain alcohol, and it may destroy good bacteria in your mouth and put you at greater risk for oral cancer.
Rather than using an OTC mouthwash, use home remedies, brush your teeth often, and stay adequately hydrated.
Keep Dentures Clean
If you wear dentures, they need to be kept clean for a number of reasons. Unclean dentures can be a breeding ground for bacteria and in turn, can cause white tongue. If you fail to keep your dentures moist (even when you’re not wearing them) they can lose their shape and fit improperly. Dentures that don’t fit can lead to injuries in the mouth and may eventually lead to a white tongue.