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Coated Tongue: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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If the different 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 Dentist for a Coated Tongue

The tongue appears to be coated with a white layer when debris, germs and dead cells become lodged between enlarged papillae. The condition is typically harmless, despite the odd appearance. A white tongue can, however, be symptomatic 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

There are 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 germs 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, usually found 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 germs 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, complimented by flossing. Use a toothbrush suited to cleaning the teeth, tongue, cheeks and gums, to help remove germs. 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.

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