A close up of the white tongue

White Tongue and Bad Breath: Causes and Treatment

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Are you worried that you may have bad breath? Don't worry you are not alone, most people have been there before. Have a look at the color of your tongue, a white tongue usually goes with bad breath. But what causes a white tongue, and bad breath? Here are some of the causes and things you can start doing to achieve fresh breath and a clean tongue.

What Causes Bad Breath?

There are some common causes of bad breath, but others are unique to certain people.

  • Poor oral hygiene: If you do not have good oral care, food particles remain in and on your teeth. This results in odor-causing bacteria in the mouth.
  • Dry mouth: Saliva keeps the soft tissues of your mouth moist and washes food particles and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth. A lack of saliva prevents your mouth's ability to remove excess food particles. These particles can cause bad breath.
  • Certain food: Foods like onions and garlic are known to leave an unpleasant smell in the mouth.
  • Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco products leaves a bad smell in your mouth. These can also cause dry mouth.
  • Medical conditions: Certain conditions like sinusitis or a postnasal drip can leave a film on the tongue that causes bad breath.

What Causes White Tongue?

Your tongue can turn white when the tiny bumps, or papillae, on the surface of your tongue swell up. When the papillae are inflamed, bacteria, food, and dead cells can all get trapped between these tiny bumps - resulting in a white coating on your tongue. Other causes of a white tongue are similar to bad breath causes, namely, dry mouth, poor oral care, and tobacco. There is a clear correlation between bad breath and a white tongue.

White Tongue Treatment

Now that you have had a look at your tongue and realized that it is white, you may be wondering what to do next? Here are some things you can start doing to get a clean tongue and fresh smelling breath:

  • Good oral care routine: Brush your teeth twice a day, and floss daily. Gently use a tongue scraper to remove the white film on your tongue effectively. You can add a mouthwash to your regimen for that extra fresh breath.
  • Drink plenty of water: This will help prevent dry mouth.
  • Foods: Try to avoid eating foods that can cause bad breath.
  • Visit your dentist: Schedule a check-up with your dentist. They will assess your oral health and provide targeted guidance based on your dental history.

A white tongue can be a sign of bad breath. The most common causes of bad breath are similar to the causes of a white tongue. Luckily, there are some things you can start doing to change this and improve your oral health. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, use a tongue scraper to effectively clean your tongue, and be mindful of the foods you eat. Drink more water to eliminate dry mouth - this is good for your whole body too!


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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.

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