Though often hailed as “the strongest muscle in the body,” the tongue is made up of a group of muscles that allow us to taste food, swallow, and talk. A healthy tongue is pink and covered with small nodules called papillae.
Because you use your tongue constantly, it can be frustrating and uncomfortable when you experience tongue problems, including discoloration and soreness. There are a variety of causes for a number of common tongue symptoms. Fortunately, the majority of tongue problems are not serious and most can be resolved quickly.
In some instances, though, a discolored or painful tongue can indicate more serious conditions, including vitamin deficiencies, AIDS, or oral cancer. For this reason, it is important to seek medical advice if you have any ongoing problems with your tongue.
What Causes a White Tongue?
There are a number of things that can cause a whitish coating or white spots to develop on the tongue, including:
- Leukoplakia. This condition causes cells in the mouth to grow excessively. That, in turn, leads to the formation of white patches inside the mouth, including on the tongue. Although not dangerous on its own, leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer. So it is important for your dentist to determine the cause of white patches on your tongue. Leukoplakia can develop when the tongue has been irritated, and it is often found in people who use tobacco products.
- Oral thrush . Also known as candidiasis, oral thrush is a yeast infection that develops inside the mouth. The condition results in white patches that are often cottage cheese-like in consistency on the surfaces of the mouth and tongue. Oral thrush is most commonly seen in infants and the elderly, especially denture wearers, or in people with weakened immune systems. People with diabetes and people taking inhaled steroids for asthma or lung disease can also get thrush. Oral thrush is more likely to occur after the use of antibiotics, which may kill the “good” bacteria in the mouth. Eating plain yogurt with live and active cultures may help restore the proper fauna in your mouth. Additionally, medications may be used to combat the infection.
- Oral lichen planus . A network of raised white lines on your tongue with a lace-like appearance can be a sign of this condition. Doctors often can’t pinpoint its cause, but it usually gets better on its own. You can do some things that might help: Practice proper dental hygiene, avoid tobacco, and cut back on foods that irritate your mouth.