Author: Lizzie Smith – blog last updated on Tuesday 15th August 2023
White deposits on your tongue not only look dirty, but the deposits also negatively affect your oral health and, therefore, your teeth. A white tongue often causes bad breath and sometimes even a strange taste in your mouth.
That isn’t surprising as the white or yellowish layer on your tongue is a mix of bacteria, saliva and food remains. It’s just like dental plaque but on your tongue. It contains the same harmful anaerobic bacteria that convert sugars into sulphur compounds. A thick layer of white deposits can linger, especially in the soft tissues at the back of your tongue, together with sulphur gases, which cause smelly breath.
The good news is you can easily do something about that dirty white layer yourself! However, before we get to that, we’ll look at what causes a white tongue in the first place.
1. Your oral hygiene leaves much to be desired
If you don’t brush your teeth properly and don’t floss or brush the plaque from the interdental spaces daily, the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth will increase. Eventually, these bacteria will settle in the tongue tissue, where they’ll have plenty of places to feed, multiply and produce their foul-smelling gases. As the balance of the oral flora becomes further disturbed, the white deposit grows into a dirty thick layer.
At the same time, poor oral hygiene increases the risk of gum disease. Inflamed gums are a party for the harmful bacteria in the mouth, which then spread to another place where they can settle well… your tongue.
2. You’re using the wrong oral care products
Even if your daily oral hygiene is in order, the harmful bacteria can increase in the mouth and, therefore, on the tongue. Toothpaste and mouthwash with corrosive or drying ingredients can seriously disrupt the balance of the oral flora. This is because antiseptics such as alcohol and triclosan not only fight the harmful bacteria but all microbes. Chemicals such as SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and artificial colours and flavours also harm the natural balance, whilst the acidifying ingredients also affect the balance of the oral flora.
3. You have a rough tongue
Other factors aside, the rougher your tongue, the more bacteria and food particles can get stuck between the tongue papillae. Even if you have a relatively smooth tongue, the back of the tongue is rough due to the presence of tongue and taste buds. When it comes to daily oral hygiene, the back of the tongue is often overlooked.
4. You have a dry mouth
A shortage of saliva threatens oral health and a balanced oral flora. In the long run, having a dry mouth is bad for your teeth, but it can also lead to a white tongue and bad breath.
5. There are lifestyle-related factors
Unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and stress disrupt the natural balance in your mouth and promote the growth of harmful bacteria. This leads to a dirty white tongue, especially if these unhealthy habits are combined!
As well as these unhealthy habits, there’s unhealthy food. Junk food doesn’t help to keep the tongue clean and healthy. It also contains a lot of sugars and carbohydrates, which are precisely the foods harmful anaerobic mouth bacteria love!
6. You have a disease
Whilst white or yellow deposits can be traced back to a disturbed bacterial balance in the mouth in most cases, there are exceptions. A white tongue can be the signal of an infection or other condition.
White tongue for colds, allergies and flu complaints
When you have a severe cold, flu or laryngitis, the oral flora can temporarily become so disrupted that you get a white tongue. This is because of the post-nasal drip – the natural drainage of excess nasal mucus through the pharynx. This nasal mucus contains bacteria from the infection, which end up on the back of the tongue.
Oral yeast infection
The yeast Candida albicans is part of the oral flora. This can be disturbed to such an extent the organism proliferates like a fungus, giving the tongue a stringy white layer.
Candida albicans, formerly known as thrush, mainly occur in babies, older people, diabetics and other people with poor immune systems. The fungus can also occur after a course of antibiotics. It kills not only the desired bacteria but also the useful ones that keep the oral flora in balance.
An oral yeast infection can also go hand in hand with an excess of harmful bacteria, which in their way, contribute to the white deposit on the tongue. If you have an oral yeast infection, you should consult a doctor.
There are also specific tongue diseases in which other symptoms can be seen or felt in the tongue in addition to the white or yellowish deposit. For example, different colours, blisters, wounds or a burning sensation. Diseases that can change the tongue’s colour include leukoplakia, oral lichen planus, cancer of the mouth or tongue, and syphilis. In these cases, you should also consult your doctor.
How to remedy white tongue
In most cases, you’ll have a white tongue due to a disturbed bacterial balance, and the white deposit can be remedied quickly. Here are the ways you can remove your white tongue.
- Make sure your daily oral hygiene is perfect. Brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes and clean the interdental spaces daily with dental floss, toothpicks or interdental brushes (tooth cleaners).
- Use mild care products that don’t disturb the oral flora. Examples are toothpaste and mouthwash from JuliBrite and RyttPro. The formulas of both these brands are mouth-friendly whilst effectively cleaning your teeth and caring for your gums. The acidity in the mouth is also neutralised, which helps to prevent white deposits on the tongue.
- Expand your daily oral hygiene by cleaning your tongue to remove the white deposits. But never use your toothbrush! Instead, use a tongue scraper or special tongue brush. Even better, use a combination of tongue brush and tongue scraper in one.
- Both JuliBrite and RyttPro have a Clean Tongue Pack, with an effective double-sided tongue cleaner and an agent that, together with the brush side, cleans your tongue deep into the papillae – all whilst respecting your oral flora.
- Is the white deposit on your tongue persistent, or do you just want to get rid of it faster? Using Bergenfeld Tongue Serum, after cleaning your tongue, gives the cleaning an extra boost. A few drops neutralise the harmful, odour-producing bacteria between the deepest papillae of the tongue. The effective formula of zinc and stabilised chlorine dioxide naturally respects the natural balance of the oral flora.
- Do lifestyle-related factors play a role in your white tongue? If you smoke or drink too much alcohol, you should stop. And if you can’t do it alone, you should seek help. Take a critical look at your diet and adjust it towards a healthier one, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, a little sugar and starch, and occasionally oily fish (salmon, mackerel) instead of red meat. You should also drink plenty of water, deal with any stressors in your work or personal life, and make sure you get enough exercise and rest.
- Pay attention to dry mouth complaints. Regardless of the cause of a dry mouth and whether or not it can be removed, you can minimise the symptoms. Choose mouth-friendly toothpaste and mouthwash that don’t further dry out the mucous membranes. Moisturise your mouth and stimulate saliva production throughout the day with Moist-R Moisturizing Mouthspray or Moist-R Hydrating Chewing Gum. Even if you don’t have any dry mouth complaints, these healthy „snacks“ with xylitol help remedy a white tongue and prevent caries (cavities) and gingivitis.
- Pay extra attention to your oral hygiene if you have a cold, the flu, or allergies. Keep your nasal passages clean with TonsilFresh Nasal Sinus Drops. The post-nasal drip can then drain the excess nasal mucus without excess harmful bacteria.
You should quickly get rid of your white tongue by taking these measures. If this doesn’t happen after a few weeks, visit your dentist or dental hygienist. Or if you feel you have an underlying condition, consult your doctor.
British Dental Association: Myth busters on brushing your teeth
Health Line: 5 Reasons to Scrape Your Tongue and How to Do It
British Dental Journal: Tongue scrapers may reduce halitosis in adults