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The Case of the White Tongue

Author: Belinda Lin

Editor: Jacklynn Nguyen

Artist: Tiffany Gao

Imagine this: you begin brushing your teeth and notice your tongue looks more white than it does pink. What is that icky white film, anyway? Fear not—over 90% of the world’s population has had a white tongue!

Now, go to the mirror and stick your tongue out. See those little bumps (papillae) on the surface? The papillae are the culprits triggering your white tongue. There are many possible reasons for your tongue to turn white, but the number one reason is poor hygiene.

Neglecting to brush your teeth or to floss causes these papillae to swell, forming creases for debris, bacteria, and fungi to build up between the papillae. Yet brushing your tongue does not make the white biofilm go away. Bacteria want to grow rather than shrink, and they want to grow exponentially, which makes it hard to brush off the white biofilm on your tongue. According to a study, “Check out the communities of bacteria living on your tongue” from ScienceNews by Jessica Welch, a microbiologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

A recent study of 2,672 subjects conducted by researchers Monique Danser, Sergio Mantilla Gomez, and Fridus Van der Weijden supported Welch’s findings, showing a direct correlation between bad breath, poor oral hygiene, and the amount of white coating on the tongue. Yet as Dr. Danser, the leading scientist says, “Over the last few decades, little attention has been paid to tongue hygiene.” Hygiene should be paid attention to, especially in these times we live in.

A white tongue can serve as an early warning system for more serious conditions as well. According to Alana Biggers, who studies internal medicine at Chicago Medicine, “This symptom can warn of a more serious condition such as an infection or early cancer.” It is important to watch out for extreme whiteness on the tongue and treat it as a possible early symptom of life-threatening diseases. So, some people may use raw garlic, but unless you want to go that route, good hygiene is the way to go.



White Tongue: Why It Happens and How to Treat It.

“White Tongue.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Feb.


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