White Spots on Your Tongue? Here’s What They Could Mean for Your Health

Updated: Nov. 15, 2022

White spots in the mouth could be a sign you need better oral hygiene—or, something more serious. A spokesperson for the American Dental Association recommends what to do if you find white spots on your tongue.

If, during your brushing and flossing routine, you notice white spots on your tongue, it might be time to schedule a check-up with your dentist. “Anytime someone sees anything they are concerned about, not sure how long it’s been there, you should go into the dentist right away,” says dentist Tricia Quartey-Sagaille, DMD, FAGD and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

You might notice a raised white patch on the tongue or spots dotting the tongue. You might even be able to rub the white spots off, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone for good.

“A lot of things that rub off can be fungal,” Dr. Quartey-Sagaille says. “It could be food, could be contact irritation, could be something that we are more concerned about.”

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What to do if you notice white spots on your tongue

A good rule of thumb is that if you see something that doesn’t seem right in your mouth, get it checked out, Dr. Quartey-Sagaille says. Having a dentist examine new or unusual spots on the mouth, tongue or the lips can help rule out serious issues like oral cancer—or catch them early, when treatment is often more effective. Dr. Quartey-Sagaille adds that it’s better to go in and realize a spot has always been there or no big deal than to delay or miss something that could require treatment.

Some spots might go away with better teeth cleaning at home. Your dentist can give you instructions for stepping up your brushing and flossing game, if they can see the problem.

Great hygiene is the answer for a lot of things particularly fungal things,” Quartey-Sagaille says.

Two minutes of brushing twice a day, daily flossing, a mouthwash and a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables can help prevent infections in the mouth.

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When should you see a dentist?

Don’t delay in seeing your dentist if you have pain or trouble talking along with the concerning white spots. White spots on the tongue are often the sign of an infection that might need treatment. They’re especially common after a tongue piercing. A white spot can also be the sign of normal healing after a piercing, as well.

A dentist can give you a treatment plan to clear up the infection. It might involve a prescription antifungal mouthwash.

Irritation, such as that from biting or burning your tongue can cause white spots. That often heals on its own, but your dentist might give medication to help with the process.

More serious causes of white spots on the tongue

More serious white spots can be oral leukoplakia, which usually shows up as a raised white patch. It is associated with smoking and can become cancerous.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, can also lead to white spots on the tongue. One 2018 Brazilian dentistry report suggested that all healthcare specialists should be equipped to diagnose syphilis, but most likely a dentist can diagnose it and treat it.

Also, don’t limit your search to white spots on the tongue, Quartey-Sagaille says. Spots can also be reddish or have a white border. They can come and go, or spots can move around. The rule is the same: if it seems unusual, get it checked out.

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