White tongue (or saburral tongue): causes, treatment, and prevention

The tongue is normally pink, but it can happen that it is covered with a whitish deposit and gives the impression of having a pasty mouth. A white tongue is also sometimes referred to in medicine as a coated tongue. Most often, it is a temporary symptom without gravity.

White Tongue Description

The tongue, which is normally smooth and pink, may sometimes become covered on its upper surface with a whitish coating. 

Depending on the cause, the white deposit can be uniform, appear in the form of spots, can be thick (pasty) or not… It can also be accompanied by various symptoms such as pain, inflammation, discomfort in swallowing, fever, etc.

The causes

The tongue can be the site of various inflammatory, infectious, or tumoral conditions, and lesions. Note that variations in color, completely normal, can also be observed from one person to another.

If the white coloring is often attributed to the presence of mycosis or candidiasis (a condition caused by a microscopic fungus such as Candida albicans ), this situation is in fact quite rare.

Most often, a whitish tongue is due to an accumulation of bacteria and cellular debris as well as a thickening of the papillae present on the surface. This is called coated tongue: the coating can be removed by scraping the tongue.

The causes of the white tongue are varied. Let us mention among others:

  • dehydration; _
  • insufficient oral hygiene, also responsible for bad breath ;
  • an alteration of the general state, caused for example by a digestive, cardiac, or systemic disease;
  • Alcohol consumption ;
  • smoking.

White spots on the tongue can also be a sign of a so-called “geographic” tongue. Although not serious, this phenomenon is due to irregular flaking of the tongue, which leads to the formation of slightly raised white-bordered spots, which change over the days. No treatment is necessary.

As for mycoses of the tongue caused by Candida albicans, a fungus, they can be favored by taking certain medications, such as antibiotics. The tongue then becomes covered with a creamy white coating, which comes off if scraped and can give a metallic taste.

Finally, some whitish lesions, called leukoplakia, are more worrying: these are potentially pre-cancerous lesions, often due to tobacco. They cannot be detached by scratching, unlike candidiasis lesions for example.

Note that in infants, especially when breastfed, the tongue can often appear white after feeding: it is in fact a deposit of milk without gravity. 

When the whitish color persists between feedings, it may be a condition called “thrush”, caused by a fungus. Treatment is then necessary because the irritation can bother the baby and irritate the mother’s breast.

The white discoloration in itself is not problematic unless it is accompanied by itching, burning, or an unpleasant taste. 

It can sometimes be a precursor to cancer and, in all cases, it is therefore imperative to identify the cause of the symptom in order to obtain appropriate treatment.

Treatment and prevention: what solutions?

In case of abnormal deposits or unusual coloring of the tongue, it is advisable to consult a general practitioner or dermatologist. He may, if necessary, request additional examinations (blood tests or biopsy, for example) to determine the cause of the white spots.

Depending on the diagnosis, a treatment will be proposed: it may be an antifungal in the event of mycosis, hygiene measures or lifestyle advice, anti-inflammatories or antibiotics in the event of systemic infection, etc.

Image Credit: Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

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