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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 yourself


  • 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

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 pain or itchiness that does not 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 only last a few days.

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

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

Read about geographic tongue.

Mouth ulcer

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

Tongue with solid white patch from the middle to the back
Itchy, red mouth with white patches on the tongue

Read about oral thrush.

Page last reviewed: 02 June 2020
Next review due: 02 June 2023