Millions of people experience the burning sensation and sore white coat on their tongue every year, and while it is rarely dangerous in itself, it can still be alarming and should be addressed immediately. This condition may also be indicative of a more serious underlying problem, particularly if it is difficult to treat within a week or two.
What is White Tongue?
White tongue is a condition characterized by the formation of white coat or plaque on the top of your tongue. The white appearance comes from the accumulation of dead cells, bacteria and other debris that has accumulated between the papillae of the tongue. These papillae will become separated or inflamed as the result of various risk factors or conditions. This inflammation is often brief and isn’t dangerous, but it shouldn’t be ignored.
The danger of white tongue isn’t limited to the appearance of your tongue, but it can also leave your mouth more susceptible to other infections. The bacteria and viruses that can lodge in the space between inflamed papillae may also result in more serious side effects.
White tongue Causes
The basic causes and risk factors for white tongue include smoking, alcohol abuse, dietary choices, heart disease, dehydration, environmental irritants, oral thrush, spicy foods, oral cancer, the use of certain medications and repetitive irritation on the tongue. The physical cause of white tongue is based on material becoming lodged in the tongue but the cause of the initial inflammation is far more important.
Smoking: Tobacco consumption can inflame the mouth due to the harsh smoke and chemicals that are contained in every drag of a cigarette. This can lead to irritation on the tongue, leading the papillae to be raised and making it an ideal condition for white tongue to appear.
Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can dry the mouth out, as alcohol does dehydrate the body. When the tongue is dehydrated, it can become inflamed and irritated, which is the perfect time for debris and other dead cells to fill the gaps between the papillae.
Dietary Choices: People who eat a lot of mushy or soft foods, and lack good amounts of roughage in their diet, often accumulate a coating of debris on the tongue. Harder or more rigid foods work to scrape the tongue during mastication, eliminating debris and bacteria from the surface of the tongue.
Heart Disease: There is another condition called red tongue, in which the tip of the tongue turns red, while the rest is quite pale; this condition is associated with heart problems, as is white tongue, in which too little blood is reaching the tongue, causing inflammation in the tongue.
Dehydration: If you don’t consume enough water on a daily basis, your body will experience many unpleasant symptoms, like inflammation in certain parts of the body including the tongue.
Environmental Irritants: If you inhale certain environmental irritants or pollutants, they can become lodged in the tongue and stimulate an immune response. The subsequent inflammation will leave your tongue vulnerable to all sorts of debris and bacteria.
Injury or Irritation: If you use an electric toothbrush or scrape your tongue too hard with your toothbrush, you may leave tiny abrasions or irritated patches on the tongue, which can easily lead to white tongue.
Medications: Some antibiotics or steroids can lead to white tongue, as they will compromise the bacterial balance in the body and the mouth, which will make it more difficult for the mouth to fight off bacterial pathogens.
Spicy Foods: If you regularly add peppers and potent spices to your food, it can cause inflammation on the receptors on your tongue. Following this inflammation, it is important to drink plenty of water to flush out any excess debris or dead cells in the mouth.
Oral Cancer: Different types of oral cancer, as well as various autoimmune diseases, can lead to a compromised immune system in the mouth, leaving your tongue susceptible to various infections on the papillae, which may lead to white tongue.
Treatments for White Tongue
If you are experiencing white tongue, there are a number of simple ways to eliminate the problem, including saliva-stimulating tablets, physical brushing, and oral flushing, among others. Furthermore, eliminating any of the risk factors above may also help to naturally treat or avoid the symptoms of white tongue.
There are some over-the-counter medications that are designed to help alleviate dry mouth, which is a major risk factor for white tongue. By stimulating the release of saliva, along with its antibacterial properties, these rehydrating tablets can help clean out the mouth of excess debris.
Brushing the Tongue
A simple solution to a build-up of debris and dead cells on the tongue is simply to scrub your tongue. Every time you brush your teeth, spend an extra 30 seconds scrubbing the top of your tongue, and then thoroughly flushing your mouth, which should eliminate most of the dead cells and white coating.
Regularly gargling with certain mouthwashes or homemade preparations can help to clear out any build-up of debris or dead cells that have accumulated on the tongue.
Home Remedies for White Tongue
Over the years, given the relatively non-threatening nature of this condition, many home remedies have been developed for white tongue, including oil pulling, glycerin, salt, aloe vera, baking soda, turmeric, probiotics, neem and tea tree oil.
Known around the world for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, this juice is extremely effective against the symptoms of white tongue. It can not only reduce inflammation on the papillae, making it more difficult for debris to accumulate, but it also neutralizes many of the common bacterial infections that can accompany white tongue.
It may sound unpleasant to put a pile of salt on the tongue but the coarse nature of salt will function as a natural scrub brush for the tongue, eliminating the white coating after only a few applications. However, salt will also help to lock in the moisture of the tongue and soothe inflammation, while also neutralizing infectious pathogens, due to its antiseptic nature.
This common substance has an exfoliating nature, which can help to scrape out hard-to-reach substances on the tongue, including the debris and dead cells that result in white tongue. Furthermore, baking soda is also a highly alkaline substance, which will help your mouth retain its acidity and ensure that your saliva is optimized for antiseptic activity.
This practice has become very popular in recent years to eliminate the bacterial and fungal infections that can attack the mouth. Oil pulling consists of holding a specific type of oil in the mouth for 10-20 minutes and swishing it repeatedly around your teeth. This can draw out bacteria and neutralize dangerous pathogens, particularly when you use oils like coconut oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, sesame oil or olive oil.
In some cases, white tongue is due to an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, which is a very common fungus in the mouth that may take advantage of a weakened immune system to grow and spread. Consuming food that is rich in probiotics will deliver beneficial bacteria to the mouth, helping to control the balance of fungi and bacteria in the mouth.
Known as one of the strongest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that we have yet to discover, turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin can neutralize any infections causing white tongue, while also soothing the inflamed papillae and preventing any more debris from accumulating. The best way to use this remedy is to mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder with warm water and then gargle the mixture for 30 seconds.
Vegetable glycerin isn’t commonly used by many people but it is very good at moisturizing and hydrating the mouth, while also eliminating the bacteria in the tongue that can lead to bad breath – a frequent side effect of this condition. Consuming a small amount of vegetable glycerin and swishing thoroughly around the tongue and teeth is the best way to use this remedy.
Tea Tree Oil
This Australian remedy has been used for thousands of years, due to the potent immune system-boosting properties of the oil, in addition to its anti-inflammatory and healing abilities. It can eliminate the appearance of white tongue, while also repairing the damaged tissues and papillae.
In Ayurvedic medicine, few things like neem powder has a major contribution. It can be mixed with 1 cup of warm water and then used as a gargle to eliminate the worst symptoms of white tongue. It is also a natural detoxifier and can reduce inflammation on the tongue and surrounding tissues.