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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have a white patch on my tongue. What could it be?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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March 27, 2014
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There are many possible causes of a white patch on the tongue.

Here are some common reasons:

  • A dry mouth. This could be from prolonged mouth breathing, dehydration, certain medications and some medical conditions.
  • Inflammation of the tongue. This is called glossitis
  • Overgrowth of yeast. This is called thrush. It happens more often in people that have been on an antibiotic or have an impaired immune system.
  • Infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) or other virus. This is especially true in people with compromised immune systems.
  • Leukoplakia. This is a white coating from persistent irritation, such as from smoking or ill-fitting dentures. Sometimes it can be pre-cancerous.
  • Oral lichen planus. This is an auto-immune disorder. The immune system gets tricked into attacking the lining on the tongue. 

If the white patch persists, you should definitely see your doctor or dentist to help sort out the cause.

 

 

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