Have you ever noticed the unsightly white film on your tongue as you get up to brush your teeth in the morning? Ideally, your tongue should be pink. However, lack of oral hygiene or other factors may lead to the formation of a pesky white coating.

As alarming as it may seem, it is a common phenomenon and does not always indicate a serious health issue. However, a white tongue is not something to be ignored, and it is vital to clean the tongue every day to ward off oral health problems.

According to dental experts, the white film is the papillae, which are formed by dead skin, food particles, plaque, and bacteria accumulation that feels like a rough layer on your tongue made up of grainy fibers. Papillae buildup usually forms when you do not clean your tongue properly and regularly. If left unclean, this collection of bacteria can become difficult to remove.

Not brushing your tongue regularly can thicken the layer of papillae and make your breath smell like rotten fish. Maintaining oral hygiene is extremely important, as not cleaning your tongue daily can make it harder for you to slough the white layer off, causing more serious health problems later.

Getting Rid of Oral Bacteria

Oral Bacteria

Preserving your tongue’s pink color is not as complicated as you may think. You can prevent plaque buildup by simply scrubbing your tongue every time you brush your teeth. You should also stay sufficiently hydrated and drink enough water to encourage the production of saliva, which plays an important role in inhibiting debris accumulation on your tongue.

Some experts also recommend that the use of alcohol-based mouthwash should be avoided entirely or at least be limited. These cleaners can make your mouth dry and prevent it from removing plaque buildup. Oral care involves brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and cleaning your tongue each time until it retains its pink color. However, sometimes a white tongue does not just signal poor hygiene. It could be a sign of a bigger problem.

When to Call a Doctor


A white tongue due to plaque buildup is a common occurrence. But in some cases, it may be caused by fungus or yeast growth, according to oral health specialists. People suffering from diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer have weakened immunity that blocks their body’s ability to fight fungal overgrowth. The uninhibited proliferation of fungus can make the tongue appear white, also known as thrush.

If your white tongue is a result of thrush, then the grime in your mouth is the least of your problems. You will notice other parts of your mouth or throat turning white, and scraping the muck off can be a painful experience. Your tongue will become sensitive and red as a result of this condition. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should see a doctor to identify the root cause of your problem.

However, if you notice an unusual white formation on your tongue in the form of circles or rings, you may be alarmed. This phenomenon is called geographical tongue and doesn’t really harm you in any way. You do not need to panic in this case, as it does not require any form of treatment.

Indications of Serious Illness

Serious Illness

You may notice a white line by the side of your mouth that can be caused by biting your tongue or chewing it while sleeping. This is known as linea alba. While it may be painful at times, it doesn’t require medical treatment.

On the other hand, if you notice a single white spot on the side of your tongue, it could be leukoplakia that can occur as a result of tobacco use. Even though they are usually harmless, they can sometimes lead to dreaded diseases such as cancer. They may also indicate HIV or AIDS if the white spot is accompanied by an unusual loss of hair.

If your body experiences anything that appears to be off, be it white lesions or marks, it is a good practice to bring it to your doctor’s attention for further testing. There is a good chance that it is nothing, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Symptoms That Call for Attention

Call For Attention

If all you experience is a white tongue and bad breath, then you don’t require professional assistance. However, if it continues for more than two weeks, despite a regular cleaning routine, then consider making an appointment.

Some symptoms that call for serious attention include:

  • Soreness of the tongue that feels like a burning sensation
  • Difficulty in talking, chewing or swallowing
  • Skin rash followed by fever
  • Inexplicable weight loss
  • Painful open sores in your mouth

Tips to Prevent White Film

White Film

According to experts, the condition of your tongue speaks volumes about your hygiene and your overall health. By now you know that cleaning your tongue is as important as brushing your teeth. It is not enough to do it once in a while. The key is to maintain a regular routine of oral hygiene.

Here are some important tips from oral care experts to prevent the formation of debris on your tongue.

  1. Never underestimate the importance of cleaning your tongue regularly. If you want to prevent the growth of bacteria, then you need to abolish their breeding ground. Invest in a toothbrush that comes equipped with a tongue cleaner on the reverse side of its head. Experts also recommend that you should never use the brush part to clean your tongue.
  2. You can also consider using a tongue cleaner to scrape the gunk off your tongue thoroughly. However, avoid applying too much pressure while cleaning. Use the downward motion at least twice or thrice to remove the white part completely.
  3. Apply a layer of toothpaste to your tongue before scraping it clean. The ingredients in toothpaste can defuse the bacteria on your tongue, making them easier to remove.
  4. Rinse your mouth with water after cleaning your tongue. Also, remember to wash your mouth after each meal to inhibit the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth.
  5. Consider using mouthwash after cleaning your tongue. With your tongue feeling squeaky clean, mouthwash will provide a breath of fresh air by removing the bad odor that can be caused by plaque buildup. However, don’t use it every day, as it can dry out your mouth.
  6. Saline water is known to be effective for rinsing your mouth. Add half a teaspoon of sea salt to a glass of lukewarm water. Use this solution to rinse your mouth at least five times a day.
  7. Avoid drinking milk tea or coffee. You should, instead, switch to green tea that is not only healthy but also helps prevent the formation and accumulation of oral bacteria.
  8. Do not eat foods with dark colors such as berries and black grapes. These foods can leave behind colors on your tongue.
  9. If you notice the formation of a white layer during a fever, try removing it as you normally would. However, if it refuses to go away despite thorough scraping, then it could be a sign of a fungal infection. In this case, talk to your doctor to get suitable medication.
  10. Dehydration is the leading cause of plaque buildup and a stinky mouth. Drinking loads of water can promote the production of saliva that is necessary to keep your tongue clean.

That dreary white film you see each morning on your tongue as you brush your teeth doesn’t really have to be a serious concern. However, if you notice that it is persistent despite regular tongue cleaning or you feel something is off, don’t forget to bring it to your dentist’s attention. Sometimes your tongue might be warning you about the development of a deeper health issue.

Related: 8 Things Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health


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