Coated Tongue: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

If all the parts of your mouth had resumes, the tongue wouldn't be able to fit all its skills on one page. Responsible for tasting food, working with the lips and teeth to talk a mile a minute and helping with digestion and mouth cleaning, the tongue has many irons in the fire. The tongue can fall into poor health, though. A coated tongue, for example, indicates that it's time to visit a dental professional.

When to See a Doctor for a Coated Tongue

According to the Mayo Clinic, the tongue appears to be coated with a white layer when debris, bacteria and dead cells become lodged between enlarged papillae. The condition is typically harmless, despite the odd appearance. However, a white tongue can be a symptom of a serious health condition.

You should consult your dentist about a white tongue if it's painful, the coating lasts for longer than three weeks, or you're concerned about changes to your tongue associated with the coating.

Causes of a Coated Tongue

The Mayo Clinic lists various reasons why the tongue can appear to be coated white. Conditions such as poor oral hygiene, mouth breathing and dry mouth are common. Alcohol consumption and tobacco usage are known to cause a number of health problems, a white tongue included. An all-soft or liquid diet can be a contributing factor, as well. Fever and congenital heart disease are also causes of a coated tongue.

White patches or coating can be a symptom of more serious health conditions, such as oral thrush and leukoplakia. These conditions require a visit to your doctor or dentist.

Oral Thrush

Thrush is a mouth infection caused by the Candida fungus, more commonly referred to as yeast. A typical healthy person has small amounts of Candida in the mouth, digestive tract and skin. Other microorganisms and bacteria keep the fungus from growing out of control. However, illnesses, stress and medications can all increase your Candida production.

The main symptom of oral thrush is white lesions that resemble cottage cheese, found usually on the tongue or inner cheeks. Thrush can happen in anyone, but it's more common in babies and toddlers, senior citizens, and people with compromised immune systems. It can result from:

  • Antibiotic and corticosteroid use
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Poorly-fitted dentures
  • Serious diseases, such as HIV and cancer
  • Pregnancy

Thrush is treated with antifungal medications taken over 10 to 14 days.


Excessive cell growth in the mouth produces white patches on the tongue, a condition known as leukoplakia. Tobacco users are more prone to it than non-smokers. The presence of leukoplakia can sometimes indicate cancer, though your dentist needs to perform an evaluation for proper diagnosis.

Leukoplakia lesions typically resolve themselves. If the patches last longer than two weeks, consult your dentist.

Treatment of a Coated Tongue

Regardless of what's causing your white coated tongue, bad breath is usually a by-product. That's because of the extra bacteria hanging out on your tongue. Fighting bad breath from a coated tongue is as simple as maintaining good oral care habits.

Brush at least twice each day, complemented by flossing. Use the Colgate 360° toothbrush, which revolutionizes oral care by cleaning the teeth, tongue, cheeks and gums and removes bacteria. Schedule regular dental cleanings, too. Besides keeping your teeth clean and healthy, your dentist can identify the cause of a coated tongue and restore your oral health to tip-top shape.

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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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.

Keep your teeth clean with an oral health routine.

Establishing an oral health routine is important for a healthy mouth. Try one of our oral health products to help you establish a schedule.