It can be alarming to notice that your tongue is a different color than you remember—in some
cases, the difference is subtle; others, dramatic.
Tongue discoloration happens when papillae—the structures that give the tongue its texture on
the surface—become discolored. Discoloration of the tongue can happen for a variety of
reasons, and its treatment will depend on the cause.
What are the symptoms, causes, and treatments of tongue discoloration that you should know
Symptoms of a Discolored Tongue
The most obvious sign of tongue discoloration is examining your tongue and noticing the odd
color. However, you may also have symptoms of tongue discoloration, which include a fever,
dehydration, or symptoms of oral thrush.
Oral thrush can cause white patches on the tongue and is usually accompanied by a burning
sensation, a bad taste—or in some cases, loss of taste—and even redness. If you’re prone to
mouth breathing, you may also be more susceptible to have a discolored tongue.
Causes of Tongue Discoloration
There are many potential causes of tongue discoloration. These include:
Tobacco use. Smoking and chewing tobacco can lead to a heavily discolored tongue that
can be white or darker in color.
Leukoplakia. This is a condition in which the cells in your mouth grow too much, which
can lead to a white tongue.
Vitamin deficiency. A red tongue may be indicative of a vitamin B-12 deficiency or even
a folic acid deficiency.
Scarlet fever. This type of fever can cause a reddish or strawberry-colored tongue.
Certain medical conditions. People who are receiving chemotherapy, antibiotic
treatment, or have diabetes may be more susceptible to a black tongue.
Poor oral hygiene. Not taking proper care of your teeth can cause black hairy tongue
due to cells not shedding normally which can lead to buildup of bacteria.
Depending on what’s causing your tongue discoloration, your doctor or dentist can help you
formulate a treatment plan.
Treatments That Can Help
You can receive treatment to help get your tongue back to normal. First, you’ll need to
determine the cause of your tongue discoloration with a dentist or doctor before you can begin
to evaluate your treatment options.
If you have an underlying medical condition that’s causing the discoloration—such as oral
thrush, scarlet fever, or a vitamin deficiency—you will need to address this problem first. In
addressing the cause, your tongue discoloration should go away on its own.
For people who smoke or have poor oral hygiene, these are habits that can be changed. You
can better your oral care habits and receive professional cleanings to help your tongue regain
its normal color, and quitting smoking is always an option.
If you have leukoplakia, a white tongue may go away on its own, although you should always
seek professional care as leukoplakia can be a predecessor to some diseases such as cancer.
Have you noticed that your tongue is discolored but aren’t sure why? In addition to evaluating
the above causes, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dentist. He or she can help
you properly determine the underlying cause of your tongue discoloration and work with you to
fully treat the problem!