Your body is a great communicator. When something is wrong, it will probably let you know. For instance, you're likely to know there's an issue with your tooth if you feel a sharp pain when you take a hot or cold drink. But what exactly is your body trying to say if you look in the mirror and discover you have a yellow tongue? We'll break down the potential causes, symptoms, and treatments for your yellow tongue so you can get it back to a color and condition you can smile about.
Yellow Tongue: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments
Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications
Seeing that your tongue is yellow may set off an alarm that something isn't quite right. In most cases, a yellow tongue is relatively harmless, but some cases could be a sign of an underlying disease.
A yellow tongue usually results from poor oral hygiene or having a dry mouth. Food and bacteria can collect on your tongue's papillae (small bumps that make up your tongue's surface). If your papillae become enlarged, bacteria in your mouth can cause your papillae to be discolored. You can remedy this by practicing good oral hygiene.
And while yellow tongue in itself is usually harmless, the poor oral hygiene that causes it could lead to more serious conditions like gum disease and tooth loss. So be sure to take care of your oral health. Brush at least twice a day, and don't forget to brush your tongue. Clean between your teeth with interdental brushes or water flossers at least once a day. Consider using other helpful products like an antimicrobial mouthrinse and a tongue scraper. And see your dental professional for regular checkups so they can catch any developing conditions early. Other steps you can take include:
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Eating a nutritious diet.
- And quitting smoking if you're a smoker.
If you practice good oral hygiene and your yellow tongue doesn't go away on its own within a week, or your condition concerns you, don't wait to make an appointment with your dental or health professional. You may have a more serious underlying condition.
A yellow tongue could also be caused by:
- Geographic tongue
This is a harmless condition that occurs when your tongue is missing patches of papillae, creating red or white patches that can look like islands on a map. The borders of these "islands" can appear to have a yellow outline. This condition is non-threatening and tends to go away on its own.
- Black hairy tongue
According to Columbia University, your tongue can appear yellow before this condition causes it to look like it is growing black hair (don't worry, it's not). Dead skin cells collect on the papillae, and this makes them longer than their normal length. These long papillae are more easily stained by substances you consume. The good news is that it's harmless and easily remedied by eliminating possible contributing factors (like smoking) and practicing good oral hygiene.
Certain medications can also cause your tongue to change color. Any medicine that contains bismuth, in particular, may cause yellow discoloration. According to the Cleveland Clinic, bismuth is an ingredient in medications that treat diarrhea, upset stomach, heartburn, acid indigestion, and nausea.
Jaundice can cause your skin and your eyes to have yellow discoloration or a yellow coating on your tongue. And in some cases, it can cause your tongue to turn yellow, too. Jaundice happens when you have too much bilirubin in your body because your liver does not properly break it down. It could be a sign of more serious conditions like liver disease, blood disease, or bile duct blockage. Call your physician right away if you think you're jaundice.
If you have a yellow tongue, you can rest assured that it's likely a relatively harmless condition that can be resolved by practicing good oral hygiene. If the condition doesn't go away, make an appointment with your healthcare for diagnosis and treatment. Whatever the cause of your yellow tongue may be, we hope they help you get it back to a condition you can smile about.
Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider.