What is white tongue? Or Pale Tongue
Look in the mirror, open your mouth and stick out your tongue. What do you see? If you’re healthy and your tongue is healthy, it should be pink. Sometimes, when there’s a problem in your body or with your health, your tongue changes color. White tongue or pale tongue is a symptom where your tongue grows a thick white coating on part or all of its top. You might also experience bad breath, a hairy tongue and irritation. White tongue can look unattractive but it’s usually harmless and temporary.
White tongue or pale tongue can build up over time or it might show up suddenly if you irritate your tongue or get an infection. You can get white tongue from many different causes but it usually goes away in a few weeks.
You can also use an anti-fungal mouthwash. But if your white tongue lasts longer than a few weeks — or if you have pain or problems eating and talking — you should see your provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Pale Tongue Causes
In some cases, a pale tongue might be white or appear to have a white coating on it. When the tongue is white, it is usually because the mouth is dry and the papillae may become enlarged and can trap bacteria and other debris on it. Dry mouth can occasionally cause the tongue to be white.
When a person has dry mouth, the saliva glands don’t make enough saliva to properly moisturize the mouth. Without enough saliva, it’s difficult to rinse away excess bacteria, food bits and other debris.
A change in tongue color isn’t the only symptom of dry mouth. Other signs include a sore throat, thickened saliva and bad breath. The first step to treating dry mouth is figuring out what’s causing it, which is why it’s important to see a doctor or dentist if you suspect that dry mouth is what’s causing your problems.
While oral thrush, or a yeast infection, won’t exactly change the color of the tongue, it can cause white patches to develop on its surface, making the tongue look pale or light in color. Oral thrush is usually easy for a dentist or doctor to diagnose, by examining the patches on the tongue and taking a sample of them.
Treatment is usually with a prescription pill or mouth rinse. If you see white patches on your tongue, it’s a good idea to see your doctor or dentist for a diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.
Poor Oral Hygiene
A white tongue can also develop when a person doesn’t practice the best oral hygiene habits. If a person doesn’t brush twice a day, bacteria buildup can discolor the surface of the tongue.
Remember that your dentist is there to help you achieve the healthiest mouth possible. They can give you pointers on the best way to brush and floss and offer guidance about when to brush your teeth.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The Merck Manual has a list of reasons explaining why the tongue might change color. It notes two causes of a pale tongue color, both of which are types of anemia, a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells.
Pernicious anemia is caused by low levels of vitamin B12, or when the intestines are unable to absorb the vitamin from food. In some cases, the anemia is due to an autoimmune disorder, which causes the immune system to go after the cells that produce the protein that helps the body absorb B12.
A pale tongue color is just one symptom of a B12 deficiency. Other signs include feeling very tired, having difficulty concentrating and feeling weak. If you think you have a B12 deficiency, it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Having a white tongue can also be caused by a number of different conditions:
Leukoplakia is a common condition caused by an overgrowth of cells in the lining of your mouth. These cells combine with the protein keratin (found in your hair) to form a white raised patch on your tongue. In many cases, you can get this condition by irritating your mouth and tongue when you drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. Sometimes there’s no obvious cause. Leukoplakia usually isn’t serious but sometimes it can turn cancerous (mouth cancer) years or even decades after it first shows up.
Geographic tongue happens while the skin on your tongue is regrowing. Parts of the upper layer of skin on your tongue shed too quickly, leaving tender red areas that often get infected. Meanwhile, other parts of your tongue stay in place too long and turn a white color. You can’t pass geographic tongue on to anyone else.
Oral thrush is an infection in your mouth caused by the Candida yeast (fungus). Although Candida is normally found inside your mouth, it becomes a problem when it grows too much.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection and a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s a serious condition with many symptoms including white tongue.
* This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.