Looking in the mirror and seeing that your tongue is yellow is scary, to say the least. This may be caused by a condition known simply as yellow tongue, which has a variety of causes. Fortunately, many treatments are available to help rid you of this ugly-looking condition. In this article, we'll discuss the various causes of yellow tongue and how to get rid of it so that you get back to feeling confident and healthy.
Why Is My Tongue Yellow?: Overview
The main cause of a yellow-colored tongue is a condition known as black or yellow tongue. It is typically caused by the overgrowth of the normal bacteria and fungi in your mouth, which then creates a yellow or black discoloration on the surface of your tongue. In some cases, yellow tongue may also be caused by certain medications, smoking habits, medical conditions, dietary choices, dehydration, or poor oral hygiene. Other symptoms associated with black or yellow tongue include:
- bad breath
- a burning sensation in the mouth
- an alteration in taste
- white patches or spots on tongue
While a yellow tongue is usually nothing to be worried about, it looks and may feel unpleasant, so it's a good idea to change your habits and treat it as soon as you notice it.
What Does A Yellow Tongue Mean?
As previously stated, a yellow tongue is usually caused by habits that are easily changed and is nothing to worry yourself over. However, if your tongue is yellow and you’re also suffering from a fever, sore throat, or other symptoms that could suggest an infection, it may be time to visit your doctor.
A healthy tongue should have a pinkish hue with small bumps called papillae which help the tongue to taste food. When these papillae become enlarged and discolored they cause what looks like a yellow coating on the surface of the tongue. This is caused by a buildup of bacteria and debris which is the result of poor oral hygiene or certain lifestyle habits.
What Is The Main Reason For A Yellow Tongue?
Yellow tongue is caused by a buildup of bacteria and debris on the surface of your tongue. This is caused by a variety of factors related to health conditions or unhealthy habits. For a majority of people who don't have these conditions or habits, however, the main cause is a lack of good oral hygiene.
Other Common Causes
There are a lot of causes of yellow tongue that are simple to identify and easy to fix. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of yellow tongue to help you find out whether any of them could be impacting you.
Poor Oral Hygiene
While we know we should be brushing and flossing every day, sometimes it gets hard to keep up the habit, or you don't know what to do to clean your tongue and teeth properly. It's important to brush properly every day, as bacteria and debris build up on the surface of your tongue, leading to a yellowish coating.
Proper oral hygiene involves brushing and flossing twice a day, as well as using an antibacterial mouthwash. This will help to keep your tongue free from bacteria and debris that could cause discoloration. You may also want to invest in tongue scrapers while you have a yellow tongue because they target the bacteria and debris stuck between your papillae that your toothbrush and mouthwash may not get.
Smoking is harmful to your health in many ways, including creating the bacteria in your mouth that cause yellow tongue. If you’ve been smoking, this is likely the cause of your yellow tongue.
Unlike a lot of harmful health effects that come from smoking, your yellow tongue may be reversed completely by quitting. The National Library of Medicine published a study that showed even a smoker who smoked 25 cigarettes a day for 17 years could make a full recovery from yellow tongue after cutting the habit.
Chewing tobacco is often worse for your tongue than smoking because the tobacco particles get stuck in between your taste buds, causing discoloration. If you’re a frequent user of chewing tobacco, this likely is what’s causing your yellow tongue.
If you notice other signs, such as a red or white bump in your mouth or an inflamed or stiff jaw, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center recommends you speak to your doctor about chewing tobacco-induced mouth cancer.
Overgrowth Of Bacteria
Bacteria and debris stuck between the natural bumps on your tongue are what cause yellow tongue, so an overgrowth of bacteria will only make it easier for this to happen. Overgrowth of bacteria may be caused by poor oral hygiene, smoking, or consuming alcohol, as these all provide a good environment for bacteria to thrive in.
You may stop the growth of bacteria by increasing good habits, like brushing and flossing, and/or losing or limiting the bad, like smoking and drinking.
Certain foods you eat may be causing your tongue to appear yellow. Eating too many processed and sugary foods causes a yellowish discoloration of the tongue because these types of food contain colorants, preservatives, and other chemicals that may accumulate on your tongue.
It may be a good idea to check your diet and make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals in your daily meals as well as limiting your consumption of processed foods. Eating a balanced diet may help to reduce the yellow discoloration of the tongue.
Certain Mouthwash Ingredients
Mouthwashes are usually a great idea for improving your oral hygiene, but some of the ingredients they include may not be right for you. Mouthwashes that contain menthol or alcohol may irritate your tongue and cause it to turn yellow. If you think this might be the cause of your yellow tongue, switch to a mouthwash without these ingredients; it will usually be just as effective.
What Does A Yellow Tongue Indicate?
If simple changes to your lifestyle are not improving the appearance of your tongue, it may be time to look into some of the much more serious causes of yellow tongue with your doctor. Here are a few conditions and diseases that a yellow tongue may be trying to warn you about. Before self-diagnosing, though, you should always consult with your doctor, research your symptoms, and make the lifestyle changes listed above to be certain.
Several autoimmune diseases have yellow tongue listed as one of their symptoms. Sjogren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes a dry mouth and leads to yellow tongue, as well as other oral problems. Another autoimmune disease that causes yellow tongue is rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects many different parts of the body.
Other autoimmune diseases that cause yellow tongue are systemic lupus erythematosus and Crohn’s disease. All of these diseases have other symptoms besides yellow tongue associated with them, so make sure to keep track of what you are experiencing and do your research.
In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, 32 out of 35 patients with a yellow coating on their tongues were diagnosed with some form of eczema, so it is a relatively common occurrence. Other symptoms of eczema include red patches of skin, dryness, and itching.
Fortunately, eczema is relatively easy to treat with moisturizers, topical creams, steroid creams, light therapy, and antihistamines. You should talk to your doctor about which course of treatment is right for you.
Sometimes called "yellow fever", it's no wonder a yellow tongue would be associated with this condition. Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin in the bloodstream and causes yellowing of the skin, eyes, and tongue. While jaundice is often associated with newborns, adults suffer from it as well, often due to underlying conditions such as liver disease, gallstones, or pancreatic cancer.
If you have a yellow tongue along with other signs of jaundice such as yellow eyes and skin, it is important to see your doctor for evaluation and treatment options, like phototherapy and exchange transfusions.
Similar to eczema, psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder characterized by itchy, scaly patches on the body. It may also cause yellow spots to appear on your tongue as well as other oral issues such as dry mouth and cracked lips.
Psoriasis is treated through topical creams and ultraviolet light therapy prescribed by a doctor, which helps reduce the appearance of yellow spots on your tongue as well.
Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining, usually caused by a bacterial infection or long-term use of pain medications or other drugs. Gastritis causes yellowing on the tongue as well as white patches and redness.
Yellow tongue is often one of the first symptoms associated with gastritis, so if you are experiencing any other signs such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite, it’s important to speak to your doctor right away. They may prescribe treatment options like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or lifestyle changes to help you manage the condition.
What Are The Symptoms Of Yellow Tongue?
The main symptom of yellow tongue is a yellow coating on the tongue, but other symptoms often go along with it. These include:
- Bad breath
- A burning sensation on the tongue and/or in the mouth
- Dryness, cracking, or swelling of the tongue
- Difficulty tasting food
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck area
- White patches on the back of the throat or roof of the mouth
None of these are pleasant, so you should do all you are able to treat yellow tongue through positive lifestyle changes, then speak to your doctor if symptoms persist.
Who Is At Risk For Yellow Tongue?
You are at risk for yellow tongue if you have poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, tobacco habits, or consume too much alcohol or processed foods. People with conditions such as diabetes, certain vitamin deficiencies, and some types of cancer are also at risk of developing yellow tongue.
If you fall into one of these categories, make positive changes to your oral hygiene routine, cut bad habits, and/or talk to your doctor about ways to help yourself.
Treatment And Prevention Options
There are plenty of ways to treat and prevent yellow tongue.
- Regularly brush your tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. This will help remove bacteria, food debris, and dead cells that accumulate on the tongue’s surface and cause yellow discoloration.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash or rinse containing chlorhexidine to kill off germs in your mouth that could be causing the discoloration. You should avoid those with high alcohol content, however, as these make your condition worse.
- Scrape your tongue regularly using a metal or plastic tongue scraper, which helps remove any buildup of plaque on the surface of your tongue that may be causing yellowing.
- If you’re a smoker, consider quitting or reducing your nicotine intake. Smoking causes yellowing of the tongue due to staining caused by tar and other toxins in cigarettes.
- Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as this will help keep your mouth clean and flush out any bacteria that could be causing discoloration.
- Eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables which are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help improve overall health.
- Avoid eating highly processed foods or sugary snacks that contribute to plaque buildup on the tongue.
When Should You See A Doctor?
You should see a doctor if positive lifestyle changes have not improved your tongue's appearance, especially if you have other symptoms besides a yellow tongue. These other symptoms may include a fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or a rash. Additionally, if you have yellow tongue along with white patches in your mouth that can't be scraped off, this is an indicator of thrush and should be checked out by a doctor.
What Questions Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider?
It's always important to ask questions at the doctor's office, but it is tough to know where to start. Here are some suggestions:
- What is the cause of my yellow tongue?
- Are there any treatments that I should consider?
- Could this condition indicate something more serious?
- Will my yellow tongue go away on its own or do I need to seek medical attention?
Hopefully, asking these questions will get you the answers you need.
Should I Worry About My Yellow Tongue?
Not necessarily. Yellow tongue may be caused by several factors, including smoking, poor oral hygiene, dehydration, or certain medications. While it may cause some discomfort or embarrassment for those affected, in most cases it is not indicative of any serious underlying health issue. If you have other symptoms and your yellow tongue does not clear up with positive lifestyle changes, it is important to see your doctor or dentist for further evaluation to see if you have one of these underlying issues.
How Do You Get Rid Of A Yellow Tongue Fast?
Usually, the best and easiest way to get rid of a yellow tongue is with improvements to your oral hygiene routine. You may need to brush and floss more often or use a tongue scraper on the back of your tongue. This will help remove bacteria, food particles, and dead cells that cause yellow discoloration.
Additionally, using an antiseptic mouthwash also helps reduce yellowing caused by bacterial buildup.
If you have difficulty brushing or scraping away the yellow discoloration, you may want to visit your dentist for professional cleaning. Dentists use special tools to clean away any stubborn plaque or debris from deep within the crevices of your tongue.
Does A Yellow Tongue Mean I Have An Infection?
A yellow tongue may appear to be an infection, but in most cases, the cause of a yellow tongue is harmless and easily treated or prevented. Yellow tongue is usually caused by poor oral hygiene or certain foods and drinks that stain the tongue. In some rare cases, however, a yellow tongue may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as jaundice or anemia. You should be worried about an infection related to your yellow tongue if you have a fever, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or any other signs and symptoms of an infection.
Can Liver Damage Cause Yellow Tongue?
In some cases, yellow tongue may indicate an underlying medical condition such as liver damage. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms associated with liver damage, like yellowing of the skin, dark urine, and abdominal pain. If left untreated, liver damage may lead to serious health issues like cirrhosis and liver failure. Your doctor may conduct tests to determine the cause of your yellow tongue and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Is Yellow Tongue An Indicator Of Diabetes?
While it is not typically associated with yellow tongue, there are some cases in which yellow tongue may be linked to diabetes. This is because uncontrolled blood sugar levels may lead to yeast overgrowth in the mouth and cause a yellow discoloration on the tongue. If you feel you may be at risk for diabetes and suffer from other related symptoms like
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Unintentional weight loss
then you should speak to your doctor about diabetes testing.
What Vitamin Deficiency Causes Yellow Tongue?
One of the most common causes of yellow tongue is vitamin deficiencies, specifically Vitamin B12 and folic acid. These vitamins are usually found in meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, and some fortified cereals. If your diet includes these foods in low amounts or not at all, you should increase your intake to prevent and treat yellow tongue.
Vitamin deficiencies cause yellow tongue by altering the normal bacteria in your mouth, which leads to a discolored film on the tongue. In addition to a yellow tongue, other signs of vitamin deficiencies may include fatigue, weakness, and digestive issues.
Does Yellow Tongue Go Away On Its Own?
While this condition will sometimes clear up on its own without any treatment, there are some things you should do to help get rid of the discoloration and associated symptoms faster, such as:
- Brushing your tongue twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Using an antiseptic mouthwash to help kill any germs and bacteria
- Avoiding foods that cause discoloration, such as coffee, tea, and red wine
- Eating more foods rich in vitamins A and C, which are believed to help fight off infection
If the yellow discoloration does not go away after these steps have been taken or if it gets worse, then you should consult your doctor.
Is Yellow Tongue An Indicator Of Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast infection that causes a variety of symptoms, including yellow tongue. However, having yellow tongue does not necessarily mean you have Candida—it’s just one possible symptom. Other symptoms of Candida include:
- white patches in the mouth
- redness and swelling of the tongue
- sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- bad breath
If you suspect that you have Candida, it’s important to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. A yellow tongue may also be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis before beginning any treatments.
Why Do I Have A Purple Tongue?
Overgrown bacteria in your mouth produce pigments that change the color of your tongue from its usual pink to yellow, gray, brown, or even purple. While it looks like you have a purple tongue, the condition is known as black tongue, yellow-black discoloration of the tongue, or oral melanosis.
Black tongue is typically harmless and is caused by a variety of factors, such as poor oral hygiene, smoking, or even certain medications. In some cases, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as infection or vitamin deficiency, but those are usually paired with other symptoms.
Is Yellow Tongue Caused By An STD?
No, yellow tongue is not caused by an STD. It is usually a harmless condition caused by a buildup of bacteria and debris on the surface of the tongue.
You should be worried about an STD if your tongue is red, purple, or blue. These colors indicate a more serious infection such as gonorrhea or syphilis.
Additionally, if you have bumps on your tongue or tongue ulcers, or if it is painful and swollen, this can be a sign of herpes on the tongue. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Summing Things Up
Yellow tongue is a condition caused when bacteria, fungi, and debris accumulate on the surface of your tongue, giving it a yellowish hue. Though generally harmless and not contagious, yellow tongue is embarrassing or uncomfortable.
Fortunately, there are several remedies that you should use to get rid of it. These include brushing twice daily, using an antiseptic mouthwash regularly, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol consumption, and eating foods high in vitamins and low in sugar. Additionally, if your case persists for more than two weeks despite trying these methods, you should visit your doctor for further investigation into the cause of the problem.