White spots on the tongue can concern many people as they may indicate an underlying health problem. These patches are usually harmless, but they can cause discomfort and pain and affect eating habits. Several common causes of white spots on the tongue include oral thrush, canker sores, geographic tongue, etc. This article will discuss 12 common causes of white spots on the tongue with treatment.
What Do White Spots on Tongue Look Like?
White spots on the tongue may vary in shape, size, and color. They can appear as white patches, bumps, or dots. The dots are usually small and look like milk curds strewn across the tongue’s surface.
Larger spots might be clustered together, resulting in a patchy covering of white film that has difficulty rubbing off quickly with a towel. Some spots may be yellowish or grayish in hue rather than white.
In some cases, they can cause stinging pain when eating spicy foods or consuming certain acidic drinks such as coffee or juice.
12 Common Causes of White Spots on Tongue
There are several common causes of white spots on the tongue. Knowing the cause of your white spots can help you determine the best course of treatment. Here are some of the most common causes of white spots on the tongue:
1. Oral Thrush
Oral thrush is a common fungal infection caused by the overgrowth of Candida fungus in the mouth. It can cause white patches on the tongue or other parts of the mouth, such as gums and inner cheeks.
These patches may appear creamy white and have a cottage cheese-like appearance. Oral thrush usually affects people with weakened immune systems, infants, elderly individuals, and those taking antibiotics or steroid medications.
Other risk factors for oral thrush include having diabetes, wearing dentures that don’t fit properly, smoking cigarettes, and using certain inhalers.
If left untreated, oral thrush can spread to other parts of your body, like the throat, esophagus, or lungs. The treatment options for oral thrust involve antifungal medication administration and improving overall dental health hygiene practices.
2. Canker Sores
The painful white bumps on the tip or side of your tongue or lip could be mouth ulcers, also known as canker sores. These small white ulcers can recur every few months and cause discomfort while eating or talking. They may also appear on the roof of your mouth, gums, or under your tongue.
According to Dr. Alfred Wyatt from the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry, canker sores not only cause white spots on the tongue but can also be very discomforting. The causes of canker sores can be various, including stress, injury from ill-fitting dentures, or deficiencies of certain vitamins or minerals.
Maintaining a balanced diet and avoiding foods that can trigger canker sores, such as spicy or acidic foods, can help prevent these white ulcer-like bumps from affecting your tongue.
3. Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can cause white spots on the tongue. This is because saliva helps wash away bacteria in the mouth.
Several factors can cause dry mouth, such as certain medications or diseases like Sjögren’s syndrome. A dry mouth allows for bacterial growth, leading to inflammation, pain, and chronic conditions if not treated promptly.
Treatment options may vary, but maintaining hydration, massaging the tongue, and medication help reduces related complications.
4. Lichen Planus
Lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the skin, nails, hair, and mucous membranes. The oral variant can appear as white, lacy patches, red, swollen tissues, or open sores.
The lesions can appear anywhere in the oral cavity, including the buccal mucosa, lips, gums, the floor of the mouth, and the palate.
The causes of oral lichen planus are not fully understood, but it is believed to be due to an autoimmune reaction. Risk factors include autoimmune disorders, oral infection, and certain medications.
Corticosteroid creams are often used to reduce inflammation and redness. While it is not curable, treatment can help manage the symptoms.
5. Geographic Tongue
Geographic tongue is a condition where spots or patches appear on the top and sides of the tongue. The patches result from a lack of papillae in the affected area. The cause of geographic tongue is unknown.
Geographic tongue causes island-shaped lesions that give your tongue a map-like appearance. The lesions can appear on the upper surface and sides of the tongue.
Treatment includes anesthetic and antihistamine mouthwash. Over-the-counter pain relievers, corticosteroid ointments, or rinses can also be used. Vegetable Glycerin can also keep the tongue moist and hasten the healing process.
6. Oral Cancers
White patches on the tongue can be a symptom of oral cancer. Oral cancer usually develops in the squamous cells on the tongue’s surface, leading to tumors or lesions.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 54,000 new oral cancer cases are diagnosed annually in the United States.
The most noticeable symptoms are red or white patches on the tongue, pain, and a sore that does not heal. It is essential to see a healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms of oral cancer.
Treatment depends on the location and size of the tumor and may involve surgery and therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Leukoplakia is a condition where one or more white patches or spots form inside the mouth, which can eventually develop into oral cancer. Symptoms of leukoplakia include white patches on the surface of the tongue, underneath the tongue, or on the insides of the cheeks.
Treatment for hairy leukoplakia may not be necessary as the condition often causes no symptoms and isn’t likely to lead to mouth cancer.
If your doctor recommends treatment, it may include antiviral medications. In some cases, the white patches may need to be surgically removed.
8. Poor Oral Hygiene
Poor oral hygiene can lead to white spots on the tongue due to a buildup of bacteria, debris, and food particles.
When plaque accumulates in the mouth, especially on the tongue’s surface, it can cause white or yellowish discoloration and bad breath.
In many cases, regular brushing and flossing, along with good oral hygiene practices like using mouthwash or scraping your tongue, will help prevent these spots from forming. However, persistent white patches may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention.
9. Allergic Reaction
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to certain substances, called allergens, resulting in inflammation and irritation throughout the body.
Allergies can cause white spots on the tongue, among other symptoms. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, and treatment depends on the severity of the reaction.
Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve mild symptoms, while epinephrine is the most effective treatment for severe reactions.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, leading to a lack of moisture in the mouth. When the mouth becomes dry, it can cause the tongue to appear white and rough.
Several studies have linked dehydration to oral health problems, including dry mouth, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Dehydration can also cause bad breath, difficulty speaking, and a decrease in saliva production. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can help keep the mouth hydrated.
11. Lie bumps (transient lingual papillitis)
If you have ever noticed raised white spots or bumps on the front of your tongue, you might be experiencing swelling of your tongue’s taste buds, commonly known as “lie bumps.” These small, whitish dots on the tongue can result from various conditions in the mouth, including inflamed papillae.
According to dermatologist Dr. Dyall-Smith, lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis, can occur due to gastrointestinal issues, stress, or hormonal fluctuations. People with eczema, allergies, or asthma may experience these bumps more frequently than others. Sometimes, the white tongue spots can last several days and cause itching or a burning sensation.
Fortunately, there are several ways to treat lie bumps and alleviate their symptoms. Doctors often recommend using antibacterial mouthwash to clear up any underlying infections contributing to the bumps. In addition, yogurt can help cool down the tongue, while drinking cold fluids can provide temporary relief.
When you accidentally bite the tip or side of your tongue, you may notice a blister filled with fluid that appears either clear or white. Such tongue injuries not only cause initial sharp pain but also make your tongue highly sensitive to certain foods and heat.
According to Dr. Sumana Jothi on MedlinePlus, mouth sores resulting from tongue injuries are not always due to tongue biting. Improperly fitting dentures or a broken tooth may also cause them. In addition to fluid-filled blisters, biting the side of your tongue may also result in blood blisters.
Home Remedies for White Spots on Tongue
Rinsing your mouth with salt water can help reduce inflammation and kill bacteria. Mix half a teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water and swish the mixture in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out.
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing oil around in the mouth to remove toxins and bacteria. Coconut, sesame, and olive oil are popular options for oil pulling. Swish the oil around your mouth for 10-20 minutes before spitting it out and rinsing it with water.
Baking Soda Paste
Baking soda has antibacterial properties that can help kill bacteria in the mouth. Mix a small amount of baking soda with water to form a paste. Apply the paste to the affected areas of the tongue and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing your mouth with water.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of bacteria in the mouth and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Eating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt or kefir, or a probiotic supplement may help improve oral health.
Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help reduce inflammation and kill bacteria in the mouth. Apply a small amount of aloe vera gel to the affected areas of the tongue and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing your mouth with water.
Tips to Prevent White Spots on Your Tongue
Taking care of your mouth is essential to prevent white spots on your tongue. Here are some tips to keep your tongue healthy and white spot-free:
- Brush twice a day, floss once daily, and use a tongue scraper: Maintaining good oral hygiene is the first step in preventing white spots on your tongue. Brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and using a tongue scraper can help remove bacteria and debris that can cause white spots.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol: Smoking and excessive alcohol use can damage your mouth cells and lead to white spots on your tongue.
- Eat healthy: Including fruits, veggies, and whole grains while avoiding sugary and processed foods can help prevent white spots on your tongue.
- Drink plenty of water: Drinking plenty of water can help keep your mouth hydrated, which is essential to prevent white spots on your tongue.
- Manage stress with meditation or yoga: Stress can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections that can cause white spots on your tongue. Managing stress with meditation or yoga can help keep your immune system strong.
- See your dentist regularly: Regular dental checkups can help catch potential oral health issues early and prevent white spots on your tongue.
When to See a Doctor?
If you have white spots on your tongue that do not go away after a week or two, or if they are accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or difficulty swallowing, you should see a doctor.
Additionally, if you have a weakened immune system or have been diagnosed with a medical condition such as HIV, you should be vigilant about monitoring your oral health.
White spots on your tongue can be caused by various factors, some of which are harmless, while others require medical attention. By following the tips mentioned above, you can take steps to prevent white spots on your tongue.
However, if you have concerns about white spots on your tongue or other oral health issues, be sure to consult your doctor or dentist. Taking care of your mouth and overall health is the key to a healthy and white spot-free tongue.