What You Need To Know About White Tongue and Bad Breath

The sight of a white tongue reflected at you in your bathroom mirror can be quite frightening. However, according to health experts, white tongue condition is usually harmless and temporary. Superficial definition of a white tongue is the presence of a thin white layer/covering or just white spots or patches on your tongue. This article will tell you all you need to know about white tongue and bad breath.

A white tongue is usually nothing to worry about. However, on rare condition, the presence of a white tongue can be a warning of a more serious condition like an underlying infection or early cancer.

See, according to Live Science, the tongue is among the strongest muscles in our bodies with regards to versatility. Actually, the tongue is one of the most sensitive places for our sense of touch and is instrumental in proper phonetic articulation. Additionally, it`s a vital organ in the process of tasting eating and swallowing.

Plus, according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine as stipulated by Acupuncture & Massage College , the tongue plays an important role in determining and treating a health condition.

For the above reasons, a white tongue is seen as a warning sign of a possible health issue and should keep a close eye on this condition if it does not go away in a couple of weeks.

What is White Tongue?

What is White Tongue

White tongue is a physiologic condition that can arise at all ages and have a variety of causes. While a thin white layer covering part of your tongue is normal, a thick white coating is often seen as an irregularity. To an objective examination, the white tongue appears as an off-white yellowish patina, occasionally with red spots.
In typical cases, white tongueoccurs when the bumps, known as papillae, on the surface of your tongue become inflamed. Inflammation of the papillae can be caused by a gamut of factors including overgrowing and swelling. These swollen, finger-like projections then trap food, bacteria, organisms and dead cells between them, making your tongue appear white and can even lead to halitosis and a bitter taste in your mouth.

What causes a white tongue


If you see a white tongue in the morning (it even worsens when you have bad breath in the morning) and don’t know what to do, you should first find out its causes. There`re numerous factors that contribute to the prevalence of white tongue.  According to NLDA Organization, some of the rampant causes of papillae hypertrophy or inflammation of papillae include;

  1. Poor oral hygiene
  2. Dry mouth
  3. Dehydration
  4. Lifestyle practices such as use alcohol, smoking, and chewing tobacco
  5. Dietary choice
  6. Mechanical irritations from sharp tooth edges or dental appliances
  7. Fever

Firstly, you need to consider that some of the triggers of papillae hypertrophy such as alcohol and tobacco use, dietary choices, poor oral health and dry mouth are on their own major cause of halitosis. Many of these triggers of white tongue overlap with the major causes of halitosis, and it`s now easier to see where white tongue and halitosis intersect.

Triggers aside, it`s also worth to consider that the tongue comes in different shapes, textures, shapes, and sizes. All these variations of the tongue can significantly increase the chances of developing chronic halitosis.

See, unlike the oral mucosa that lines the interior and dorsum of your mouth, the tongue is covered by approximately 10,000+ miniature taste buds. These taste buds are responsible for your taste sensation.

As it turns out, there`re different zones of the tongue that allow you to experience different taste sensations, meaning that the taste exhibit variety in size, shape, and length, even in a single unit. Typically, people with longer taste buds have greater chances of developing white tongue, since the buds can host many bacteria, mucus and food debris. Additionally, the longer the taste buds, the rougher the overall surface of the tongue and more easily for mucous and bacteria to attach to the tongue.

Another often neglected aspect is the geography of your tongue. According to WebMD, geographic tongue is defined as a tongue that is filled with natural fissures and grooves. These fissures and grooves often occur at the dorsum of the tongue and are excellent spots for harboring mucous, debris and bacteria.

Anaerobic Bacteria and White Tongue

Similarly, they make an excellent breeding point for the anaerobic bacteria that cause bad breath and a white tongue. These anaerobic bacteria cannot survive in oxygenated environments, so they`re found in hard-to-get places such as under the gum tissues or deep within the taste buds of the tongue.

In most cases, a geographic tongue can be white, yellow or even black in color. It can also be coated and sometimes dry and cracked. So, it can lead to fetid breath.

The presence of unregulated bacteria in the mouth can create an imbalanced population of microorganism in the mouth and tongue, which can lead to foul mouth odor. Aside from the microorganism imbalances, the combination of bacteria and mucus in the mouth can result to the proliferation of the anaerobic bacteria within the taste buds of the tongue, which in turn produces volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) as a metabolic byproduct.

While everybody produces these VSCs to some extent, but in normal condition, their concentration is so low that they`re undetectable to the human nose. However, in the presence of excessive anaerobic bacteria, the concentration of the VSCs may reach a point where the nose is able to detect them, and now you have halitosis. The most common smells are hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan.

Treating White Tongue and Bad Breath

Teeth Scraper

There`re several practices that you can adapt to prevent the pesky bouts of the white-coated tongue and it`s associated halitosis. In most cases, the practices involve determine the white tongue triggers and preventing them from occurring.

Some of the basic measures include;

  • Practicing good oral hygiene; i.e. brushing and flossing your mouth and teeth after every meal
  • Using a teeth scraper to clean your teeth and a tongue scraper to clean your tongue

Wen scarping your teeth, you do not have to scrape your teeth so hard until it bleeds. Generally, scrapping harder does not necessarily translate to additional removal of bacteria. You simply need to press just hard enough and try not to leave any gaps.

  • Avoiding sugary foods as they provide energy to the bacteria
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and cleanse the food debris and bacteria in the mouth
  • Eat fresh (and make your breath fresh) and crunchy veggies which as natural cleansers

When to See Your Doctor if You Have a White Tongue and Bad Breath


White tongue alone is harmless, temporary, and you do not necessarily have to see a doctor in case you experience one. However, if it does not go away in two weeks you should consult your doctor. Additionally, if it`s associated with the following symptoms, you should similarly see a doctor. The symptoms include;

  • A painful tongue, with a “burning” sensation
  • Presence of open sores
  • Having trouble in chewing, swallowing or talking
  • Presence of other symptoms such as fever, weight loss or skin rash

We hope that you will solve the problem of white tongue and bad breath really soon! You can also read other articles on the website, e.g. post nasal drip and bad breath.


  • https://www.livescience.com/32823-strongest-human-muscles.html
  • http://www.amcollege.edu/blog/eight-principles-of-diagnosis-in-tcm
  • https://www.nlda.org/painful-and-enlarged-papillae-on-tongue-causes-and-treatment/
  • https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/geographic-tongue
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