Tongue colors can describe your health. Healthy tongue should be pink with a thin white layer on top. However, if you have a thick enough white layer or white spots on your tongue, then you need to know the cause and how to deal with the white tongue. Although not dangerous, in rare cases, a white tongue can indicate a more serious condition such as infection or cancer symptoms.
The cause of the tongue is white
White tongue is often associated with oral hygiene. Your tongue can turn white when the curved small lump (papilla) swells and then becomes inflamed. Bacteria, fungi, dirt, food, and dead cells can all be trapped between enlarged papillae. This is what ultimately makes the tongue become white.
Here are some factors that can also cause white tongue, namely:
- It's rare to brush your teeth and do flossing
- Dry mouth
- Breathing by mouth
- Eat lots of soft-textured foods
- Irritation due to sharp teeth or dental cleaning equipment
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Consuming excessive alcohol
Various causes of white tongue
Here are some conditions that can cause the tongue to be white, namely:
This condition usually causes white patches on the inner cheeks, along the gums, and sometimes on your tongue. Over-consuming alcohol, smoking, and chewing tobacco are the causes of this condition. The presence of white spots on the tongue that are a sign of the condition of leukoplakia is generally not dangerous. But in rare cases, leukoplakia can develop into oral cancer.
This venereal disease can cause sores in your mouth. Transmission of the disease caused by infection with the Treponema pallidum bacterium is through contact with an infected person during sexual activity. Bacteria enter your body through minor cuts or abrasions on the skin or mucous membranes.
Syphilis can spread through closed contact without direct protection with active lesions (such as when kissing) or through an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or labor (congenital syphilis). If syphilis is not treated, then white patches called syphilis leukoplakia can appear on your tongue.
3. Oral thrush
This condition is an oral infection caused by candida fungi. Oral thrush generally attacks more women than men. You are at risk of developing oral thrush if you have diabetes, lack of iron or vitamin B, wear dentures, and have a weak immune system due to certain diseases.
4. Oral lichen planus
Oral lichen planus is a condition that indicates a problem with your immune system. As a result, white spots on the mouth and tongue cannot be avoided. The condition also results in painful gums. The chances of you having a wound along the inner lining of your mouth are also quite high.
5. Geographic tongue
This condition marks inflammation of the tongue, but is not dangerous which will affect the surface of your tongue. If on a healthy tongue the surface is covered by pink papillae, then on the geographic tongue some of the tongue will look like patches that are not patchy because they look smooth and slippery with white lines around them.
6. Oral cancer
Oral cancer occurs when cells in your lips or mouth experience DNA mutations. This mutation allows cancer cells to continue to grow and divide when healthy cells die. This accumulation of abnormal oral cancer cells can form tumors that will spread into the mouth and area of the head and neck.
Oral cancer is often characterized by thin (squamous) cells that line the lips and the inside of your mouth including the tongue.
7. Tongue cancer
Tongue cancer is a form of cancer that starts on the cells of the tongue. Tongue cancer often starts in thin and flat squamous cells that line the surface of the tongue. Symptoms of tongue cancer are generally similar to other oral cancer symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, pain in the infected area and not recovering, decreased weight, bleeding in the mouth, the presence of red or white patches on the tongue, and pain in lumps on the tongue.
8. Take medicines such as antibiotics
Taking drugs such as antibiotics can cause fungal infections in your mouth that are often marked by a white tongue.
How to overcome the white tongue
White tongue generally doesn't need to be treated. Usually the symptoms will disappear by themselves. Some of these ways you can do to overcome them, namely:
- Gently brush it using soft brush bristles.
- Use a special tongue cleaner.
- Drinking lots of water can also help remove bacteria and food debris that is stuck on the tongue which is the cause of white tongue.
However, if you have done these things but have not disappeared, then you need to find the cause to know the most appropriate treatment.
- Leukoplakia usually doesn't need to be treated. However, you need to go to the dentist to do a routine check-up to make sure the condition is not getting worse. To get rid of white streaks or spots, you need to stop smoking or chewing tobacco, and reduce alcohol intake to your body.
- Oral lichen planus also does not require special treatment. However, if the condition is severe, the doctor will prescribe steroids in the form of spray or oral cleanser made from steroid pills which are dissolved in water.
- Oral thrush can be treated with antifungal drugs. This drug is in the form of a gel or liquid that can be applied to the mouth and in the form of pills.
- Syphilis treated with penicillin. This antibiotic can kill the bacteria that cause syphilis.
Natural treatments that can be done to overcome the white tongue
1. Take probiotics
The imbalance of healthy bacteria in the intestine can cause canker sores in the mouth and a layer of white tongue. Taking supplements and foods containing probiotics can help balance healthy bacteria in the intestine. Besides that, it can also treat health conditions related to fungal candida which causes oral thrush.
Some studies show that probiotics are beneficial for oral health because they can inhibit unwanted microbial growth. Probiotic bacteria are associated with preventing inflammation and bacterial growth on the tongue because they affect bacteria in the mouth and immune response.
2. Eating aloe juice
Aloe vera has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. That is why this ingredient is used to cure infections, wounds, burns, and skin irritations. Aloe vera also contains enzymes that help lift dead cells and help regenerate skin tissue.
To get rid of the white layer on your tongue, one tablespoon of aloe vera juice that you consume two to three times a day can make the layer disappear.
3. Eating garlic
The antifungal content of garlic makes it an effective natural treatment for white tongue. Research shows that allicin, one of the active compounds in garlic, shows an antifungal effect and may be as effective as fluconazole, a drug used to treat fungal infections, including fungal infections of the mouth.
To treat white tongue, especially because of canker sores or excessive bacterial growth, take one clove of raw garlic per day for consumption or use organic raw garlic supplements.
4. Using baking soda
Baking soda can remove food debris that causes the tongue to white and maintain pH levels in the mouth by neutralizing acids. In addition, research shows that baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, has inhibitory activity against Streptococcus mutans in saliva and plaque.
Baking soda can significantly reduce the number of bacterial cells in the mouth in research conducted by the Dows Institute for Dental Research at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
You just mix one teaspoon of baking soda with lemon juice until it's textured like pasta. Then add the mixture to your toothbrush, and brush your tongue and mouth.
When should I see a doctor?
If the layer or white spot on the tongue does not disappear in two weeks, you can consult a doctor. Also, if you experience more serious symptoms like the one below, you need to see a doctor immediately:
- The tongue is painful or burning.
- Has open sores in the mouth.
- Having trouble chewing, swallowing, or talking.
- Have other symptoms such as fever, weight loss, or skin rash.
How to prevent the white tongue
Basically the way to prevent a white tongue is to avoid the cause. Preventing a white tongue is not always possible, but there are a number of things you can do, namely, maintaining dental and oral hygiene such as:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day.
- Use fluoride mouthwash every day.
- Using fluoride toothpaste.
- Flossing at least once a day.
- Brushing your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid infection because the brush is too hard.
- Check your teeth every six months.
- Stop smoking.
- Reducing alcohol consumption.
- Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
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