Why Is My Tongue Yellow & Do I Need to See a Doctor?

Why Is My Tongue Yellow & Do I Need to See a Doctor?
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Why Is My Tongue Yellow & Do I Need to See a Doctor?Clinical Content Reviewed by Licensed DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Yellow Tongue?
  2. Causes
  3. Symptoms of Yellow Tongue
  4. When to See a Doctor
  5. Treatment Options
  6. References

Most of the time, a yellow tongue can be cleared up with simple fixes, such as improving your oral hygiene. Many things can cause your tongue to become discolored, ranging from foods and tobacco products to poor oral hygiene and certain medications or vitamins.

In some cases, a yellow tongue can be caused by an underlying condition, such as black hairy tongue syndrome, jaundice, psoriasis, an inflammation of the gastric lining, or as a precursor to diabetes.

When yellow tongue is accompanied by additional symptoms or does not clear up quickly with simple changes, it is time to talk to your doctor about it.

What Is Yellow Tongue?

A yellow tongue is the discoloration of the tongue that makes it have a yellow hue. This can happen when bacteria, discoloring particles, and dead skin cells build up on the tongue and become trapped. This can cause the tongue to be coated with a yellowish color.

Ingesting certain foods, drinks, vitamins, and medications, and smoking, can put you at a higher risk for yellow tongue.

Causes of Yellow Tongue

causes of yellow tongue

A yellow tongue is usually caused by your habits or medications, and it can easily be cleared up without lasting issues. Certain products, irritants, and foods can cause your tongue to take on a yellow color.

  • Some oral hygiene products can irritate skin cells on the tongue, cause dry mouth, or change the color of your tongue.
  • Medications and vitamins can cause pigment discoloration.
  • Food and drinks with dyes and colorants, especially those that are sticky, can turn your tongue temporarily yellow.
  • Smoking and tobacco use can discolor your tongue.
  • Poor oral hygiene can cause bacteria to build up on your tongue and trigger a yellow coating.
  • Dry mouth and mouth breathing at night can increase the rate of bacteria buildup on your tongue and give it a yellow color.

Another cause of yellow tongue is black hairy tongue syndrome, which typically makes it look like you are growing black “hair” on the back of your tongue. This is because the papillae cells build on each other instead of shedding off as they are supposed to. This condition can also cause the tongue to look brown or yellow.

Sometimes, yellow tongue can be an indicator of a more serious condition that needs to be addressed medically.

  • Skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, can cause flaky and yellow patches to appear on the tongue.
  • In rare cases, jaundice (a breakdown of red blood cells) can cause bilirubin to build up on the tongue, turning it yellow.
  • Yellow tongue can also be a clinical sign for diabetes, a condition that impacts blood sugar regulation in the body.
  • Inflammation of the gastric lining can cause a thickened yellow coating on the tongue.
One way to treat a yellow tongue, brush with a combination of one part hydrogen peroxide and five parts water once a day and continue to rinse your mouth several times a day with water.

Symptoms of Yellow Tongue

The most distinctive symptom of a yellow tongue is the color. You may also develop bad breath (halitosis), taste distortions, nausea, and experience gagging with a yellow tongue.

Symptoms of a yellow tongue are often dictated by what is causing the yellow color in the first place. Underlying conditions can include more symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

If changes to your habits and oral health care routine do not clear up a yellow tongue within a few days, it is time to consult your doctor. If you are also feeling tired, feverish, or experiencing additional symptoms, such as trouble eating, breathing, or swallowing, or flu-like symptoms, you should check with your doctor to see if the yellow tongue is the result of something else.

If you notice that your eyes or skin are also turning yellow or have a yellowish color to them, you need to contact your doctor right away. This can be a sign of jaundice and needs medical treatment.

Treatment Options

Most of the time, yellow tongue is caused by bacterial buildup or outside irritants. The condition can be managed by eliminating what is causing the discoloration and taking better care of your mouth.

If the yellow tongue is caused by an underlying condition, your doctor or dentist will need to help you find the cause and treat the root issue to clear up your yellow tongue. They may prescribe medications or methods for controlling blood sugar or bilirubin buildup.

Tips recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:

  • Brush your teeth two times per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Do not use tobacco products.
  • Avoid or reduce medications that cause dry mouth.
  • See your dentist at least once per year.
  • Minimize alcoholic drinks.

Using a tongue scraper on your tongue can also minimize bacterial buildup and help to both treat and prevent yellow tongue.

Staying away from food and drinks that stain your tongue and paying attention to certain medications and vitamins that cause this discoloration can help eliminate the issue as well. Talk to your doctor before stopping or switching medications to find the best alternative.

References

Oral Health Tips. (February 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

What You Should Know About Yellow Tongue. (November 2017). Medical News Today. Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

The Yellow Tongue: New Case. (2019). Imaging in Medicine. Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

An Icteric Tongue. (July 2021). New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Yellow Tongue Coating is Associated With Diabetes Mellitus Among Japanese Non-Smoking Men and Women: The Toon Health Study. (June 2018). Journal of Epidemiology. Date Fetched: August 2, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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