What does it really mean when your tongue is white?

Have you ever noticed what looks like a white coating on your tongue? While it might look gross, there are a variety of reasons this might happen, according to Mayo Clinic, and for the most part, it's nothing to worry about. 

White tongue occurs when dead cells, debris, and bacteria become stuck within the inflamed papillae, or "fingerlike projections," on the surface of your tongue. There are many things that can cause the papillae to become overgrown and swollen. On the less serious side, papillae inflammation may be due to poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, dehydration, smoking, excessive alcohol use, eating mostly soft foods, or a fever. More serious causes of a white tongue include oral yeast infection, oral thrush, leukoplakia, mouth cancer, tongue cancer, syphilis, and immunosuppression caused by HIV/AIDS.

But don't panic — Mayo Clinic notes that white tongue is "generally harmless," but does recommend seeing a doctor should you experience tongue pain or if the condition lasts more than a few weeks.

How to combat white tongue

One way to combat white tongue is to amp up your probiotics intake, which are the good bacteria for the digestive system. Another way is to use baking soda as a scrub on your toothbrush to help remove and reduce bacteria. Similarly, the use of a tongue scraper can help remove debris and bacteria that exacerbate the condition (via Medical News Today). 

It's not always easy to prevent a white tongue but basic lifestyle choices like drinking plenty of water, and refraining from smoking and excessive alcohol use can help avoid this unsightly condition. If you're struggling with a white tongue, be sure to keep that appointment with your dentist every six months, and start practicing good dental hygiene — it's amazing what flossing and brushing correctly will do for your oral health (via Healthline).