How is white tongue treated?

White tongue that is caused by a buildup of debris in the mouth is treated by practicing good oral hygiene on a regular basis:

  • Use a soft toothbrush when brushing the teeth.
  • Use a mild toothpaste (one that does not include sodium lauryl sulphate).
  • Brush the tongue or use a tongue scraper to remove the white coating. If a tongue scraper is not available, you can use a turned-over teaspoon.
  • Use a straw to drink cold drinks.
  • Avoid things that can irritate the tongue, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and food and drinks that are spicy, salty, acidic or very hot in temperature.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers if there is discomfort.

Treatments for more serious causes of white tongue include the following:

  • Leukoplakia: If the white patch does not go away on its own after about two weeks, you should see a dentist. Treatments include:
    • Avoiding alcohol
    • Discontinuing tobacco use (both smoking and chewing)
    • Regular follow-up visits with the dentist or doctor. This is necessary to make sure the condition does not advance to cancer.
    • Removing the patch with surgery if the risk of oral cancer is high. Removal will ensure that the cells found in the patch do not turn cancerous.
  • Oral lichen planus: Lichen planus in the mouth can last for several years. A doctor can prescribe mouthwashes and sprays that will reduce discomfort from symptoms such as burning or sore gums. It is also important to maintain good oral hygiene, such as brushing your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day. Avoid food and drink that irritates the mouth, as well as alcohol and mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Geographic tongue: There are no special treatments for geographic tongue. You should avoid food and drink that are known to increase discomfort. Topical applications used to treat oral thrush may provide some relief. On a long-term basis, there is no risk of this condition becoming cancerous.
  • Oral thrush: Antifungal medications in the form of gels or liquids may be applied to the patches inside the mouth. Treatment usually requires several applications per day for one or two weeks. Oral antifungal medications may also be prescribed.
  • Syphilis: Syphilis will not go away on its own. If it is not treated, it can damage the nervous system and cause serious long-term health problems. Treatment consists of one to three injections of antibiotics, or taking antibiotics by mouth for two to four weeks, depending on how serious the condition is.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/04/2017.

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