Sore or white tongue

A sore or white tongue is not usually serious and is often easily treated.

Things you can do if you have a sore or white tongue

Do

  • use a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth

  • brush your tongue or use a scraper to help improve a white tongue

  • use a straw to drink cool drinks

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen

Don’t

  • do not use a toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulphate

  • do not eat hard, spicy, salty, acidic or hot food and drink that may irritate your tongue

  • do not smoke

  • do not drink alcohol

A pharmacist can help with sore or white tongue

You can ask a pharmacist about:

Non-urgent advice: See a GP or dentist if:

  • you have tongue pain or itchiness that does not go away or gets worse
  • you have white patches on your tongue

Common causes of a sore or white tongue

Lichen planus

Biting or burning your tongue with hot food or drink can cause pain and swelling. This should only last a few days.

A white tongue can be a sign of a health condition, such as lichen planus, leukoplakia, geographic tongue, mouth ulcers or oral thrush.

But do not self-diagnose. See a GP if you're worried.

Open mouth showing bottom row of teeth, with white patches on the tongue and inside the cheek.
Lichen planus can cause white patches on the tongue and inside the cheek, with sore gums.

Leukoplakia

Read about lichen planus.

Geographic tongue

Read about leukoplakia.

Pink tongue poking out of the mouth with patches of white.
Blotchy, red patches on the tongue that have a white or light-coloured border may be geographic tongue.

Mouth ulcer

Find out more about geographic tongue on the Oral Health Foundation website

A white, round ulcer on the underside of a tongue poking out of mouth.
Mouth ulcers are round, painful and swollen sores that look like blisters and can appear on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, or on the lips.

Oral thrush

Read about mouth ulcers.

An open mouth with tongue poking out. There is a solid white patch from the middle to the back of the tongue.
An itchy, red mouth with white patches on the tongue could be oral thrush.

Read about oral thrush.

Page last reviewed: 2 June 2020
Next review due: 2 June 2023