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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


  • 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


  • 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:

  • what's causing your sore or white tongue
  • if you can buy anything to help with any pain or irritation
  • if you should see a dentist or GP

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

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.

Lichen planus

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.

Read about lichen planus.


Pink tongue poking out of the mouth with solid white patches on the left side and tip.
Leukoplakia can cause white, raised patches on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, or on the gums, that do not come off when you rub them.

Read about leukoplakia.

Geographic tongue

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.

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

Mouth ulcer

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.

Read about mouth ulcers.

Oral thrush

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: 02 June 2020
Next review due: 02 June 2023