What is white tongue/what does it look like?
Our tongue has finger-like projections called papillae. When inflamed, these papillae can trap food, bacteria, fungi or debris. It causes the tongue to get that white appearance. It can also cause bad breath, bad taste or even redness.
What causes white tongue?
It’s caused due to inflammation of the papillae. There are several factors that cause this inflammation, factors such as poor oral hygiene, mouth breathing, dry mouth, dehydration, smoking/tobacco use, alcohol use, soft diet, having sharp tooth edges or irritation from dental appliance like dentures or braces or even fever.
There are certain medical conditions that can give the appearance of white lesions/patches. These conditions include medication use causing a yeast infection, Oral thrush (a fungal infection), geographic tongue, leukoplakia, Lichen planus, oral and oropharyngeal cancer, syphilis or hypothyroidism.
Let us discuss a bit more about these lesions. Oral thrush happens if you have a weakened immune system due to AIDS or Iron/Vitamin B deficiency or even with diabetes. Prolonged use of dentures can also cause thrush. It is caused in either very young or every old population.
Geographic tongue is normal but gives the tongue a map like presentation. This just an anomaly of the tongue presentation.
Leukoplakia is white patches in the mouth usually caused by smoking, excessive tobacco use. These are usually harmless but can progress to oral cancer.
Lichen planus is an autoimmune disease causing white lacy lesions or sores on the tongue and inside cheek area. These can be painful.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, if left intreated causes white patches.
Hypothyroidism can lead to decreased function of the thyroid gland causing a weakened immune system.
How can you treat white tongue?
Usually anything should heal within 2 weeks. Keeping the area clean with a brush, tongue scrapper can help. Also keeping well hydrated. Depending on what is causing the white lesion, appropriate treatment is rendered. Lichen planus will need steroid, fungal infection an antifungal medication. Syphilis with antibiotics. If diagnosed oral cancer, then it will need further extensive multi-specialty treatment. Hypothyroidism can be treated with appropriate medication.
How can you prevent white tongue?
You can prevent by having good oral hygiene, and taking care of your teeth by brushing twice a day and flossing. Make sure you have a good well-balanced diet. Try to avoid smoking or tobacco use and heavy alcohol use. Making sure you keep regular dental appointments every six months to get evaluated and screened.
When should you see a specialist for a white tongue?
Usually, a white lesion is nothing to worry out. It is when symptoms worsen, becomes painful or when a lesion does not rub off and does not heal within 2 weeks should you have evaluated.