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What Causes a White Coated Tongue in Kids?

Updated April 17, 2017

If you've noticed a white coating on your child's tongue, you may be concerned--and rightfully so. Although most white coatings are due to harmless conditions, other causes of white tongue can be dangerous, but treatable. The appearance of the coating is key to identifying its cause.

Oral Thrush

Perhaps the most common cause of a white coated tongue in kids is oral thrush, or candidiasis. It appears as white patches, which often appear curd-like, similar to the texture and appearance of cottage cheese. Babies and toddlers often have this condition, which is caused by a build-up of yeast organisms in the mouth.

Dehydration and Fever

Dehydration and fever can dry out the saliva that bathes your child's tongue. When the tongue is dry, many cells near the surface die and become lodged between the papillae. It is important to make sure that your child is drinking plenty of fluids, whether the white coating is due to dehydration or fever.

Inflammatory Disease

Oral lichen planus is an autoimmune disorder, which is usually chronic. It causes white patches to appear on the cheeks, and sometimes on the tongue and other areas of the mouth. Although it can be painful or uncomfortable, oral lichen planus usually can be managed with medication or home remedies.

Harmless Conditions

A white tongue coating also can result from benign, or relatively harmless, conditions. Geographic tongue is a condition that appears as smooth red patches interspersed with a white coating. Although this is relatively harmless, it can cause some discomfort. Leukoplakia, a condition in which white patches form on the inside of your child's mouth, is usually benign, as well, but in rare cases can mark an early stage of cancer. In addition, if your child is taking certain medications or breathes excessively through his mouth, either may cause a white coating to appear on the tongue.

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About the Author

Keren (Carrie) Perles is a freelance writer with professional experience in publishing since 2004. Perles has written, edited and developed curriculum for educational publishers. She writes online articles about various topics, mostly about education or parenting, and has been a mother, teacher and tutor for various ages. Perles holds a Bachelor of Arts in English communications from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.