You see: Cottage cheese white
It could mean: You have a yeast infection. A lumpy, white-coated tongue could be thrush, an oral yeast infection caused by overproduction of candida. The condition is often linked to antibiotics. “Your tongue is home to naturally occurring bacteria and yeast. When you take an antibiotic, which selectively kills off bacteria, it can allow yeast, which is not killed by antibiotics, to take over,” says Dr. Tylor. Thrush, which might cause taste disturbances or a bit of pain, can also occur in those with weakened immune systems. Typical in young children, thrush also affects people with autoimmune diseases, people with diabetes that isn’t well managed, chemotherapy patients, and the elderly. If you suspect you might have thrush, see your doctor. Unlike other yeast infections, thrush can’t be treated with over-the-counter products, but you can try these natural home remedies for thrush in mouth.
You see: Wrinkles
It could mean: You’re getting older (yes, even our tongues show signs of aging). Fissures and cracks in the tongue are typically harmless, but problems can arise if poor dental hygiene leads to infection within the crevices. “Once in a while a fungal infection can develop inside the clefts,” says Dr. Ramer. “You will suddenly have pain, a foul smell, and sometimes burning.” Often the infection is treated with a topical antifungal medication. Some dental appliances, like dentures, can also cause indentations on the tongue. “Make sure your dental fixtures fit well, drink enough water, and practice good oral hygiene like brushing your tongue,” says Dr. Der-Sarkissian.
You see: Small patches of white
It could mean: Something is irritating your mouth. Painless white patches (called leukoplakia) are caused by an excess growth of cells. Often associated with smokers, the lesions have about a 5 to 17 percent chance of developing into cancer. “If you’re a smoker, this is your body telling you that it’s starting to develop these precancerous lesions,” says Dr. Tylor. In many cases, leukoplakia can reverse when you stop smoking and will prevent you from getting a tongue disease.
Not a smoker? “The patches can also sometimes result just from the abrasion of the tooth constantly rubbing against the tongue,” says Dr. Cooper. “But if it doesn’t go away in a week or two, it’s extremely important to see your dentist, who might recommend a biopsy.”