What Does a Coating on the Tongue Mean

The tongue is a most integral part of the human body. It consists of a group of muscles, which run in different directions to do all kinds of jobs. The front part of a tongue is flexible. It helps in producing different types of sounds (s, z, v, f, and h) with the help of central teeth and lips. It also helps in eating and pushing food toward the molars so that they can grind it well. The back part of the tongue mixes ground food with saliva. Back muscles push ground food along with saliva into the esophagus. The back part also helps in producing k and g sounds. The whole base of the tongue is firmly tight with the bottom of the mouth, and that is why it cannot be swallowed, even if this is attempted. A layer of papillae covers the top of your tongue. Papillae are small bumps which move food in the mouth while chewing. Papillae also contain taste buds, which help people to enjoy taste of the food.

Tongue coating:

Coating on the tongue is oral thrush or oropharyngeal candidiasis in medical terminology. It is quite common in newborn babies but rare in older children. It occurs in older people when there is an attack of fungus in the mouth. Fungus is usually present on skin membranes; however, it grows more if the environment of the throat or the mouth becomes imbalanced. As a result, symptoms of oral thrush appear on the tongue.

People suffering from this condition may also have painless white spots in their throat and mouth. They may also experience blisters on the tongue or inner cheeks. The patient may feel difficulty in swallowing if the fungus overgrows in the esophagus. A coating on your tongue gives information about general health. A mild coating suggests nothing particularly serious, whereas a thick film that hides the original tongue indicates that the pathogen is deep.

The condition tells the practitioner about the condition of fluids in the body. A moist coating speaks about poor fluid metabolism, and dry coating speaks about the deficiency of fluids. A peeled off coating suggests damage or heat in the stomach.

The color of coated tongue speaks about the overall health of a patient. Yellow coating suggests blood deficiency. Red coating shows heat in the body. Black color film shows that there is stagnation somewhere in the body. The color of different parts of the tongue tells the story of different body parts. For example, the tip indicates the health of the heart; just behind the tip area indicates lung condition; the center of the tongue is associated with the stomach; the back of the tongue indicates kidney health. Some kinds of foods also affect the color of the coating. For example, coffee, orange juice, strawberry and red turnips dramatically change the color of film on the tongue.

Symptoms of coated tongue:

The most prominent symptom is a thin white film that covers the tongue from tip to end. This film is comparatively more visible at the back part of the tongue. Keratin or dead skin cells make a coating on the tongue. Abnormal build up of dead skin cells are due to dehydration because it makes the saliva dry. Absence of saliva makes the tongue dry. It is for this reason that people get a whiter tongue during fever. Sometimes the color of coated tongue could be yellow or brown. This is because bacteria or candida albicans has pigments that color the keratin. In an extreme situation, the layer of dead skin cells becomes thick and makes the tongue color black. It is a most severe type of coated tongue.

Another symptom is bad breath. Bad breath is result of food particles caught in the layer of keratin. These food particles later turn into bacteria and produce bad breath.

In addition to this, a patient with coated tongue may suffer from cavities and rotting teeth. The film or coating on the tongue produces acid that could become cause of decaying teeth. A patient who has coated tongue may suffer from fever. This condition arises when toxins snow-under the body and saliva cannot resist bacteria in the mouth.

Types and Causes of coated tongue:

Candida albicans infection is naturally present in the various parts of the body. Human friendly bacteria maintain balance in the growth of fungus. However, when the friendly bacteria lose their balance, the level of the fungus grows in the body that develops through a weak immune system. This weak immune system can cause coating on the tongue. There are three types of coated tongue: white coating, yellow coating, and black/brown or hairy tongue.

White coating:

Most people do not drink enough water that makes their body dehydrate. Dehydration reduces the presence of saliva in the mouth that causes a layer of dead skin cell on the tongue. This layer of dead skin cell is white coating. Some people have other reasons for dry saliva. For example, most people reach for a cup of coffee with an empty stomach. Coffee is a diuretic that promotes dehydration. Smoking, high blood pressure medications, and anti-depressants may cause dry mouth. Menopause may contribute to dryness in the body.

Autoimmune disorders affect glands that produce saliva, which results in dehydration. Other diseases that cause dryness are: mumps, thyroid problem, anxiety, and diabetes.

Yellow coating:

Yellow coating occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce yellow color pigments that make the tongue to develop yellow color. In yellow coating, papillae swell and creates rough surface, which allows bacteria to stay in the mouth and produce yellow color pigment. A yellow coating may look alarming. It may be an indication of HIV and liver disorder. The patient with liver disorder may suffer yellow coating too. Yellow tongue indicates jaundice. In this disease, bilirubin increases in the body, which gives a yellow color to the white part of the eyes and the rest of the body.

Black coating:

When swelled papillae keep bacteria for longer time, there becomes a thick film on tongue. It looks like fur or hairs. According to National institutes of health(1), it is harmless, but sometimes it can be alarming because it occurs in AIDS. The causes of black coating on the tongue are poor oral hygiene and too much use of mouthwash that contains oxidizing agents.

Prevention/Treatments for coating on the tongue:

  • Cleanliness is best prevention.
  • Brushing the tongue twice in a day may cure coated tongue.
  • Proper brushing will clean the food particles in papillae on the tongue.
  • Use a tongue scraper daily.
  • Drink at least eight glass of water in a day. Water will fight dehydration in the body.
  • Add few drops of lemon juice into drinking water. This will stimulate the flow of saliva in the mouth, which will lessen the effects of dryness in the mouth.
  • Chew sugar free gum with a strong mint flavor. It will boost saliva production.
  • Add plain yogurt into the daily diet because it has friendly bacteria called acidophilus which helps to correct the microbial imbalance in the body that causes coating on the tongue.
  • Mix one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide and five tablespoons of water. Dip the toothbrush in this combination and softly brush the tongue. Clean the mouth with water after scrubbing thoroughly. Avoid swallowing hydrogen peroxide. The mixture of baking soda and water is another useful tongue scrubber.

When to see the doctor:

A patient should consult the doctor when the coating of the tongue is still there even after cleaning it for several weeks because it may be due to an underlying medical condition. Some of these conditions include cancer, diabetes, and HIV.


1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003047.htm