NHS website

Sore or white tongue

Find out about the possible causes of a sore or painful tongue. Common causes include geographic tongue, oral thrush and aphthous mouth ulcers.

19 February 2019


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

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

Read about lichen planus ↗.


Read about leukoplakia ↗.

Geographic tongue

Read about geographic tongue ↗.

Mouth ulcer

Read about mouth ulcers ↗.

Oral thrush

Read about oral thrush ↗.