The Yellowing of the Tongue and Its Treatment

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of yellow tongue, but using tobacco products or certain medications also contribute to the discoloration of the tongue.

A yellow tongue is the result of an accumulation of dead skin cells on the tongue's surface. Inadequate attention to one's oral health is usually to blame. Users of tobacco products and some medications are at increased risk for developing a yellow tongue. The majority of cases of yellow tongue are not serious. Better dental hygiene is usually the solution.
A Person With a Yellow Tongue
Causes and indications of yellow tongue. Causes of yellow tongue range from smoking to improper brushing to poor nutrition. However, it may also be a symptom of something more serious, like an autoimmune disorder.

What we mean by "yellow tongue" is a tongue that has turned from its normal white color to a yellowish one. The vast majority of people who experience this condition recover without lasting harm. When dead skin cells get stuck in the papillae (the tiny, hair-like projections on the tongue), you may experience this condition. Your papillae become discolored from the buildup of dead skin cells and stains from food and tobacco use.

Yellow tongue typically clears up on its own. In most cases, the issue can be fixed by the affected individual by taking better care of themselves and paying more attention to their oral hygiene.

Exactly what does it suggest if your tongue is yellow?

The discoloration of the tongue can be brought on by a number of different things. An accumulation of dead skin cells on the tongue is the usual cause of this problem. An autoimmune disease or jaundice might be the cause of a tongue that's coated in yellow.

Yellow tongue affects

A yellow tongue is a condition that can affect anyone. Tongue discoloration is more common in people who use tobacco products or take certain medications.

There's a possibility that you have a condition called black hairy tongue if your tongue is yellow. Keratin, a protein, accumulates on the tongue's surface, causing this syndrome. The accumulation causes your tongue to look hairy.

Other possible reasons for yellow tongue include:

  • Bad dental hygiene
  • Smoking
  • Tobacco chewing
  • Bacterial overgrowth on the tongue's surface.
  • Some dietary items
  • Chlorhexidine, alcohol, and menthol are some of the active ingredients in mouthwash.

An underlying medical condition, such as:

  • Chronic inflammatory autoantibodies Immune systems are compromised in those with autoimmune diseases. Yellow tongue is more prevalent in people with autoimmune disorders.
  • Gastritis Yellow tongue is a symptom of stomach inflammation, and Helicobacter pylori is often the culprit.
  • Psoriasis Dry, scaly skin is the result of this condition. It can also cause your tongue to develop yellow spots.
  • Jaundice A condition called jaundice, which is rarely the cause of a yellow tongue, can occasionally be the underlying cause. Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin, a yellow chemical compound. Skin (including the tongue) and eye whites can become discolored. Assemblage like this may be an indicator of liver damage or dysfunction.

What causes a yellow tongue and how do you treat it?

In most people, the only symptom of a yellow tongue is the discoloration of the tongue. Possible side effects of having a yellow tongue include:

After performing a thorough oral examination, a doctor can diagnose yellow tongue. Regular dental exams are a good time for dentists to spot the warning signs of a yellow tongue.

Most cases of yellow tongue can be solved by simply practicing good oral hygiene. There may be bacteria and other buildup on your tongue's surface, which can be removed with a toothbrush or tongue scraper.

The best way to avoid developing a yellow tongue is to practice good oral hygiene. In order to achieve the best outcomes, you should:

  • You should brush your teeth twice or thrice daily with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste that is gentle on the enamel.
  • Use dental floss or interproximal brushes to clean the space between your teeth once a day.
  • If your tongue is covered in bacteria and dead skin, you should use your toothbrush or a tongue scraper to get rid of it.
  • Don't forget to gargle twice a day with an alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash.
  • You should schedule regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist (at least once every six months or as directed by your dentist).
  • If smoking is a habit you'd like to break, discuss options for doing so with your doctor.

Moreover, if you have a yellow tongue due to illness or the use of certain medications, you should see your doctor. They can advise you on measures to take to lessen your vulnerability to yellow tongue.

Yellow tongue is not harmful and can be prevented with regular dental care. However, if you notice that your tongue has turned yellow, it may be a sign of jaundice or another serious medical condition that needs immediate medical attention.

If any of the following apply to you, it's time to get in touch with your doctor:

  • Experience the jaundice-related symptoms of a yellow tongue, eye whites, and skin.
  • You've made positive changes to your lifestyle (like increasing your oral hygiene routine or giving up tobacco) but you're still struggling with a yellow tongue.
  • Take note of any changes in symptoms that seem to be occurring for no reason
  • Get black hairy tongue, characterized by the appearance of pronounced papillae on the tongue that resemble hair or fur.
  • Feel discomfort in your mouth or tongue.

Inquiries to Put to Your Doctor

Here are some things to discuss with your doctor about your yellow tongue:

  • Why does my tongue look yellow?
  • What causes the yellow film on my tongue, if anything? Poor oral hygiene?
  • Is there anything I can do differently to lower my future risk of yellow tongue?
  • If your tongue isn't normally white, could it be a sign of something more serious?
  • How much more vetting and testing will I need?
  • Am I going to have to get treatment?

Cleveland Clinic's Note

A buildup of dead skin cells causes yellowing of the tongue, also known as "yellow tongue." Despite appearances to the contrary, the condition is typically not life-threatening. Most cases resolve themselves after regular dental hygiene is performed. But if you've already tried altering your lifestyle and your tongue is still yellow, it's time to see a doctor. Find out what's causing your yellow tongue so they can prescribe the right treatment.

On October 26, 2022, this was the most recent revision by a medical expert from Cleveland Clinic.


  • G.E. Gurvits, A. Tan Syndrome of the Black Hairy Tongue (https://www ncbi nlm nih gov/pmc/articles/PMC4138463/) Journal of the World Gastroenterological Association 2014;20:10845 Last accessed on: October 26, 2022
  • The Professional Edition of the Merck Manual Alterations to the Color of the Tongue (https://www merckmanuals com/professional/dental-disorders/lip-and-tongue-disorders/tongue-discoloration-and-other-changes) Until October 26, 2022
  • Organization of Dental and Craniofacial Surgeons A Tongue Covered in Hair (https://www aaom com/hairy-tongue) Date Accessed: October 26, 2022
  • J. Ye, X. Cai, et al. The presence of bacillus on the tongue coating could be used as a diagnostic indicator (https://www ncbi nlm nih gov/pmc/articles/PMC5006162/) Sci Rep 2016;6:32496 Retrieved on October 26, 2022
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