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Why does plaque appear on the tongue?

You are about to brush your teeth, but you notice in the mirror that instead of pink, your tongue is now white. This is usually harmless, and the reason is a lack of oral hygiene. Don't panic. If you have started cleaning your tongue daily, but the plaque does not go away or becomes more pronounced, this is an excuse to talk to a doctor. In the article we will tell you what plaque means in the language.

Published at

April 26, 2024

What does a healthy tongue look like?

The tongue is a muscular organ covered with a mucous membrane. Papillae on it make its surface rough and allow a person to taste food.

A healthy tongue is soft, fairly smooth and has a pale pink color. The papillae on it are distinguishable and not smoothed, and when moving the tongue does not cause painful sensations.

Normally, a small plaque may appear on the tongue, which is noticeable in the morning due to the accumulation of bacteria in the oral cavity at night. Also, the color of the tongue may change to brown after colored products: coffee, tea, beetroot or blueberries. The color returns to normal after a few hours or after cleaning the mouth.

Causes of plaque on the tongue

Not all white tongues look the same, so plaque does not always occur for the same reason. We have collected all possible reasons for the change in the color of the tongue. 

Poor or insufficient oral hygiene

The most common reason. Papillae on the tongue can swell, become inflamed and change color due to bacterial growth. 

Candidiasis of the oral cavity

It is a fungal infection of the oral cavity. It can manifest as a creamy-white color of the tongue or lesions on the inside of the cheeks. The reason is the growth of the yeast-like fungal organism Candida albicans.

Although everyone has this fungus that lives inside the body or on the body, the infection is common in patients with weakened immune systems. 


If the patient is sick with COVID-19, a white plaque may develop on the surface of the tongue. The disease is also manifested by red spots of different sizes with a white border. 

You can take a COVID-19 test and get a treatment plan at almost any clinic. 

Other symptoms of COVID-affected tongue include:

Burning sensation
Dry mouth
Loss of taste

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you can replenish: sweating, excessive urination, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

In addition to a white tongue, other symptoms may occur: dry mouth and/or skin, feeling tired and dizzy. 

Leukoplakia of the oral cavity

With leukoplakia of the oral cavity, white or light gray spots appear on the inside of the cheeks, on the tongue and along the gums. At first, they may be small in size — 3-5 mm, but increase over time and become more rough and hard. People who smoke, chew tobacco or drink a lot of alcohol are at risk. 

Contact your doctor or dentist if you notice similar signals.


Some medications can lead to plaque and contribute to the development of oral candidiasis and lichen planus. Check your first aid kit for availability: 

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors in blood pressure
Immunosuppressants that help calm the immune system's response
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Injury to the tongue

If you accidentally bite or burn your tongue, it can lead to the formation of white tissues on it.

And a white or yellow plaque may appear after a fresh tongue piercing. Don't be scared, it's part of the healing. 

When to see a doctor

If the white plaque appears only in the morning and is easily cleaned off, then this is normal. Do not worry about the white color of the tongue even after taking antibiotics. Just help your body recover faster: eat right and try to be less nervous.

To be sure of your health, make an appointment with a doctor. You may not be prescribed treatment, but you will feel calm. 

It is not worth delaying a visit to the doctor if:

It is difficult for you to drink, eat or talk because of the acute pain.
You have a fever, rash, or unexplained weight loss.
There are open sores in the mouth.
The raid does not go away for 2-3 weeks.

How is the diagnosis going?

As a rule, the patient is examined by a therapist, dentist or otolaryngologist.
The doctor evaluates the color and density of the plaque. He asks the patient about other concerns: dry mouth, pain after or during meals, loss of taste sensations.

After the examination, the doctor may refer the patient for additional studies to identify the cause of plaque and other symptoms.

A biochemical blood test allows you to assess the general state of health and detect abnormalities in the work of internal organs.

And how to return the healthy pink color of the tongue? 

The raid often goes away on its own. Try adding a tongue scraper and mouthwash to your dental cleaning arsenal. Brush your tongue at the same time as your teeth — morning and evening. 

How to use a scraper:

Start at the root and gently peel the tongue in the forward direction, removing all accumulated plaque. Repeat the movement three to five times. Do not forget to rinse the scraper after each movement.

If the tongue remains white after 2-3 weeks of careful oral hygiene, the cause may be a disease or injury. Come for a consultation with the dentists of Olympus Clinics. They will make a diagnosis, ask about the symptoms and work together with other doctors to make a treatment plan. 

We have collected possible options for the treatment of plaque:

Leukoplakia: The participation of an oncologist may be required in the development of a treatment plan. The patient needs to stop smoking and follow a diet. According to the indications, the dentist performs the correction of dentures, caries treatment, and replacement of fillings.
Oral candidiasis: Antifungal medications prescribed by a dental therapist. 
Tongue injury: Medications prescribed by a dentist. As well as abstaining from alcohol, spicy, sour food and drinks until the symptoms disappear.

What are the methods of prevention?

Sometimes good oral hygiene is all that is needed to eliminate plaque on the tongue. We have compiled tips that will help maintain a healthy tongue color, snow-white teeth and fresh breath: 

Use fluoride toothpaste and drink fluoridated water.
Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily.
Visit the dentist every six months.
Smoke less and drink alcohol. Ideally, give up bad habits.
Eat fewer sweets and drink less sugary soda.
Drink more water to avoid dehydration.
Eat more vegetables, fruits and other foods that contain prebiotic fiber. These products support an environment for the growth of healthy microflora, which contributes to normal digestion and prevents exacerbation of chronic gastrointestinal diseases.

We recommend visiting the dentist at least twice a year for preventive examinations and professional cleaning of the oral cavity. During the procedure at Olympus Clinics, the dentist removes soft and hard dental deposits with tools. The doctor will tell you how to clean the house and which toothbrush and toothpaste will suit you. Also, after professional oral hygiene, the risk of developing caries decreases, and breathing becomes fresher.

Schedule a visit to the clinic

You can schedule a visit to any of the clinics. Choose the time when it will be convenient for you to receive a return call to confirm the appointment.

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