There are many different conditions that are associated with your tongue changing a different color. The most common are when the tongue develops a thick white layer, turns red or becomes black and hairy.

White tongue conditions

Oral Thrush

Thick white patches that have the consistency of cottage cheese is a yeast infection of the mouth caused by the Candida fungus. This infection is most likely to occur due to an imbalance of bacteria in the mouth caused by antibiotics. Other factors include smoking, poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, diabetes, or chemotherapy.


White patches form inside the mouth and on the tongue due to excessive cell growth. The use of tobacco products is the most common cause. Leukoplakia can be a precursor to oral cancer.

Oral lichen planus

A spider web of raised white lines can form on your tongue or the inside of your cheek as a chronic inflammatory autoimmune response. The condition can disappear on its own but in rare cases it can be a sign of oral cancer.

Red tongue conditions

Geographic tongue

The formation of a map-like pattern of reddish spots that vary in size and can develop a white border. The patches are usually painless and tend to shift to different locations and spread along the tongue if left untreated.


A red area or lesion that appears on the surface of the tongue and is similar to leukoplakia. However, Erythroplakia is more of an oral cancer risk factor than leukoplakia.

Black tongue conditions

Black, hairy tongue

Although the appearance is not appealing, black hairy tongue is harmless and is generally not painful. It can occur when the small bumps (papillae) on our tongues become too long and trap bacteria. The bacteria grows and gives the tongue its dark appearance, while the overgrown papillae look like hair.

A healthy tongue

Tongues should be a shade of pink and be moist. Other healthy surface textures include a thin white coating that partially or fully covers the surface of the tongue.

General tongue condition risk factors:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Poor diet
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • A weak immune system
  • Viral infections

Visit a dentist or doctor is you experience any discomfort, sores, swelling, as well as color, texture or taste changes in the mouth or on the tongue.