White tongue refers to instances when a person's tongue is coated with a thin, white film. Dead skin cells or bacteria on the surface of the tongue can cause it to look white. An individual might have white tongue because of a variety of things, including excessive dry mouth, an oral yeast infection or the early stages of oral cancer.
Chronic dry mouth is one of the most common causes of white tongue. Dehydration is often the cause of dry mouth. People should drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid becoming dehydrated. If a person is taking antibiotics, plays sports frequently or has spent a night drinking multiple alcoholic beverages, he or she might be more at risk for becoming dehydrated.
Bad oral hygiene can also lead to dry mouth. People should be sure to brush their teeth multiple times a day. Flossing and using mouthwash also promotes good oral care. If a person is prone to this condition, lightly brushing the tongue itself can be beneficial.
Another common cause of this condition is an oral yeast infection, also known as thrush. Just like a vaginal yeast infection, thrush is caused by a fungus called candida. White tongue caused by oral thrush will be thicker and more painful than the kind caused by dehydration.
Denture wearers, people taking inhaled asthma medications or sufferers of chronic immune system disorders are among those at high risk for developing an oral yeast infection. A doctor can prescribe an anti-fungal mouth rinse to cure the candida. If an individual knows that he or she is prone to thrush, consuming yogurt and garlic on a regular basis can help prevent re-occurrence, because these foods contain natural yeast-fighting properties.
One of the more rare but potentially most dangerous causes of white tongue is leukoplakia. Leukoplakia causes patches of white spots to appear on the tongue, roof of the mouth and gums. Elderly individuals or those who have compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for developing leukoplakia than others.
Leukoplakia should be taken seriously because it might be an early sign of oral cancer. Smokers or people who have had cancer in other parts of the body should seek medical attention as soon as possible if they suspect that they have leukoplakia. A dentist or doctor can do a biopsy to determine whether cancer cells are present. The earlier cancer is caught, the greater chance a patient has for recovery.