What is white tongue?

A “white tongue” is a common symptom when your tongue is coated by a thick white film. This coating can cover the entire surface of your tongue, the back part of your tongue or it might show up in patches. You might also notice a bad taste in your mouth, bad breath or redness.

White tongue sometimes happens along with a related symptom called hairy tongue. But the thick furlike coating you see isn’t actually hair, it’s your papillae – small bumps containing your taste buds.

White tongue can build up over time or it might show up suddenly if you irritate your tongue or get an infection. You can get white tongue from many different causes but it usually goes away in a few weeks. You can also use an anti-fungal mouthwash. But if your white tongue lasts longer than a few weeks — or if you have pain or problems eating and talking — you should see your provider for diagnosis and treatment.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy