What Are the Common Causes of White Saliva?

Kathleen Howard

There are many different medical conditions that can alter a person’s saliva color, but the most common causes of white saliva are dry mouth, certain prescription medications, and infections of the lips, cheeks, and gums. Certain digestive problems, autoimmune conditions, and a range of unrelated diseases can also include saliva white as something of a side effect or symptom. Most cases aren’t serious and people often find that their saliva will return to a more normal clear consistency on its own. If things haven’t improved after a day or two, or if the color change is accompanied by fever, nausea, or any other symptoms, most medical experts recommend that people seek help in order to get to the root of the problem and rule out serious conditions.

Dry mouth is a common cause of white saliva.
Dry mouth is a common cause of white saliva.

Dry Mouth

People suffering from dry mouth, known medically as “xerostomia,” are some of the most prone to saliva that is white and stringy or foamy in consistency. The most common causes of dry mouth include illness, particularly colds; dehydration; and an arid, low-humidity climate. All of these conditions cause the mouth’s mucus membranes to shrivel, which can rob moisture from the saliva. Saliva’s main function is to lubricate the mouth and oral passages. It is made mostly of water, and when water levels are low its color can change in response. People can often fix this simply by taking in more fluids.

Medications for depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes can cause white saliva.
Medications for depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes can cause white saliva.

Medication Side Effects

A number of medications can also cause a change in saliva color, whether due to dry mouth or some other change in mucus membrane consistency. Medicines used to dry out the nasal passageways — a common goal of many cold and respiratory medications, for instance — are prime examples; certain drugs used to treat depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes may also be to blame. Sometimes these drugs will list changes in saliva as a common side effect, but not always. Anyone who wonders whether a reaction is normal should usually ask a qualified healthcare professional.

Saliva changes may be a symptom of a more serious health issue.
Saliva changes may be a symptom of a more serious health issue.


White saliva might also indicate an infection of the mouth or stomach. Candidiasis, also known as oral thrush or oral yeast infection, can make a person’s tongue and saliva appear white or blotchy. An overgrowth of bacteria in stomach or throat can have a similar effect; Helicobacter pylori cultures do this relatively commonly. In very serious cases, these bacterium can cause stomach atrophy and digestive system failure, but in small amounts they often do little more than impact saliva and make it appear frothy and take on a bitter or sour taste.

Helicobacter pylori may cause white saliva.
Helicobacter pylori may cause white saliva.

Digestive Problems

Chronic acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease sometimes also cause saliva changes. Opaque, white spit is most common as a person is digesting a meal that has irritated the digestive tract, and often carries a distinctive acidic taste. If it becomes too acidic, a person might even begin developing sores on the lips, tongue, or inner mouth.

Other Overarching Conditions

Saliva changes may be a side effect or symptom of something much larger, like organ trouble, systemic diseases, or autoimmune conditions. Sarcoidosis, a lung disease that affects the lymph nodes and other tissues, sometimes causes the oral glands to secrete frothy mucus; people suffering from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may have similar symptoms. When a person suffers from sarcoidosis as well as an additional connective tissue disorder the condition is known Sjogren's syndrome, and dry mouth is an established side effect of this condition. In these cases changes in spit are usually some of a patient’s more minor concerns, but they still serve as a sign that something is wrong elsewhere.

Treatment Options

Getting a person’s saliva back to normal is often a question of treating what’s wrong in the first place, be it sensitivity, infection, or some other condition. Sometimes simply restoring a person’s electrolyte balance and helping them re-hydrate is all it takes, though depending on the circumstances things can be much more complicated. If things don’t return to normal on their own, more investigation may be needed. Medications designed to stabilize the chemistry of the mouth and digestive tract may help in these cases.

Chronic acid reflux can cause changes in saliva color.
Chronic acid reflux can cause changes in saliva color.

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Discussion Comments


What about frothy white sputum without a cough?


My sister suffers with nausea and the doctor has said it is anxiety related. She has been experiencing a white chalky substance in her mouth when waking in the morning. Her doctor has also said he is not sure what this substance can be. Does anyone have any idea what it is and could this problem be associated with the nausea? Any advice would be welcome.


For a couple of weeks, I've been having to spit because of excessive saliva building up in my mouth frequently. Also, I've been hacking up small, green balls, but I know they're not tonsil stones. Any ideas?


I am suffering from producing a lot of saliva, which is like clear water especially when I speak a lot and sometimes during the night it happens to me. It's really driving me mad and embarrassing. Please help me in this matter.


@KoiwiGal - I was taking a medication a while ago that caused changes in my saliva and it's actually pretty easy to tell whether you're seeing phlegm or white saliva. Any saliva that has been changed is going to taste awful. If you think about it, we are tasting saliva all the time and it just tastes of nothing to us.

So any changes to that composition aren't going to be fun. I was taking pills for an illness I picked up while overseas and the doctor warned me that they caused a bad taste and dry mouth, but I didn't realize how bad that really was. Having to have a bad taste constantly in your mouth is really awful and I don't envy anyone who has to deal with it.


You might also have what looks like white saliva if you've just got a common cold or the flu. Remember, unfortunately, that your nose drains into your throat and you might be coughing up phlegm or noticing the drainage from your nose, rather than seeing white saliva.

Saliva is excreted from your mouth, particularly around your tongue, so make sure you know where the white is coming from, or your doctor might simply send you away again with some kind of over the counter flu medication.

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