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Sore or white tongue

A sore or white tongue isn't usually serious and is often easily treated. Most should only last a short time.

Things you can do yourself


  • use a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth

  • use a toothpaste that doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulphate

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

  • use a straw to drink cool drinks

  • take painkillers


  • 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 a sore or white tongue

A pharmacist can look at your tongue and might be able to tell you:

  • what's causing it
  • 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 pain or itchiness that doesn't go away or gets worse
  • 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. But this should last only a few days.

A white tongue can be a sign of a health condition.

Don't self-diagnose – see your GP if you're worried.

Lichen planus

Open mouth showing bottom row of teeth, with white patches on the tongue and inside the cheek

Read about lichen planus.


Read about leukoplakia.

Geographic tongue

Pink tongue with patches of white poking out of mouth

Read about geographic tongue.

Mouth ulcer

White/grey round sore on the side of a tongue poking out of mouth

Read about mouth ulcers.

Oral thrush

Tongue with solid white patch from the middle to the back

Read about oral thrush.