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Yellow Tongue – Causes, Symptoms, Reasons

Excerpt: A tongue can appear to be yellow for a number of reasons, even though it may be unsettling...
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Yellow Tongue

A yellow tongue for a number of reasons, even though it may be unsettling and a bit scary, it is quite often a temporary, benign (harmless) condition. A yellow tongue may have 1 or more underlying conditions and generally, the best way to diagnose it is to see a dentist. It will be very difficult for a person without sufficient medical training to diagnose a yellow tongue.

Are you worried about a yellow tongue? Although it may be unsettling and a bit scary, it is quite often a temporary, benign (harmless) condition. A yellow tongue may have 1 or more underlying conditions and generally, the best way to diagnose it is to see a dentist. It will be very difficult for a person without sufficient medical training to diagnose a yellow tongue. So if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible: an intense yellow discoloration of the tongue, oral ulcers, bad breath. If you are concerned that you may have yellow tongue, speak to your doctor first to rule out any serious medical conditions.

Symptoms Of A Yellow Tongue

Since you can have different causes of a yellow tongue, it may appear with different symptoms:

  • Yellow, brown, or black discoloration.
  • Unexplained bad taste, or bad breath (halitosis).
  • Burning sensation.
  • Gagging sensation.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take notice and if they don’t go away after 24-48 hours, a dentist appointment is advisable. 

Why Is My Tongue Yellow?

There can be a number of reasons as to why your tongue is yellow, it can have one cause, or multiple underlying causes.

Bacterial Overgrowth

Papillae appear as tiny bumps that cover your tongue, suboptimal oral hygiene can cause bacteria and dead cells to collect between these bumps. After enough time, this phenomenon can cause your tongue to appear yellow.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Saliva can be a cause of dry mouth due to the fact that saliva helps to regulate the bacteria in your mouth. If you lack a sufficient amount of saliva, an overgrowth of bacteria can happen.

Hairy Tongue

Also known as a black tongue, occurs when your papillae elongate. This can cause the tongue to appear yellow, black, or brown. This can happen due to a build-up of a protein called keratin, this is a naturally occurring protein that is used in your body. As the papillae increase in length, they will have an increased surface area, this will cause them to collect food and bacteria, which will cause the tongue’s color to change.

Geographic Tongue

Instead of having too many papillae, geographic tongue happens when your tongue loses papillae. When your tongue loses papillae, it will appear patchy, these patches can also change their shape and size within hours or even minutes! Geographic tongue is not very well understood, but it is believed to be benign, although somewhat unnerving condition.

Oral Thrush (Oral Candidiasis)

Oral thrush is an oral fungal (yeast) infection, which is called by the yeast Candida albicans. This yeast strain is a normal part of your oral and gut flora. However, eating a high-carb diet, and having a weakened immune system can result in oral thrush. Some antibiotics can also cause these symptoms to appear. Oral thrush appears as white patches on the tongue as well as a burning sensation. These white patches can be scraped off your tongue, however, it may still need to be treated.


Jaundice is a condition where your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. A byproduct occurs when red blood cells break down, this byproduct is called bilirubin. If your body cannot break down bilirubin properly, it can cause Jaundice.
Jaundice is a very serious medical condition that is generally signaling problems with your liver or pancreas. 
Some causes of Jaundice can include:
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Bile duct blockage
  • Liver or pancreatic cancer

Some Foods And Medications

Certain foods and medications containing yellow dye as well as beverages like coffee can cause yellow staining on your tongue. Other medications like oral contraceptives, anti-malaria medications, and chemotherapy can cause a tongue to appear yellow as well.

Tobacco Use

If you smoke, the tobacco can cause many different parts of your mouth to turn yellow, including your tongue. The heat from the smoke can also cause dry mouth to occur, which is an underlying condition of a yellow tongue. If you are a heavy-tobacco user, you may not be giving your mouth enough time to make enough saliva.

Autoimmune conditions

Eczema and Psoriasis are two autoimmune conditions that can directly change the color of your tongue.


Gastritis can cause an inflammation of the stomach lining, this condition has been known to cause your tongue to turn yellow.


Diabetes or prediabetes can cause a discoloration of the tongue which may cause it to appear yellow.

How Can I Prevent Yellow Tongue?

Having sufficient oral care is the most common way to prevent discoloration of the tongue. Many people often don’t understand the importance of brushing your gums and tongue, but they are just as important as your teeth. However, the treatment for your tongue might require certain medications, quitting tobacco, eating a more balanced diet, etc.

The best way to find out how to treat your yellow tongue is to go to a dentist or a doctor. If they confirm that it is a benign issue, you may be able to treat it with a better oral care routine. If the underlying cause is something more serious, they will give you the best options to go forward with.

Should I See A Doctor Or Dentist About Yellow Tongue?

In most cases, a yellow tongue will be a benign condition, and you should be fine with just making a dentist appointment to find out what the issue is. If the dentist is not able to identify the cause of the yellow tongue, they may decide to refer you to a specialist.

Diagnosis Of A Yellow Tongue

You will want to be upfront about any medications or physical issues you have noticed recently and inform the dentist of them. It will make it significantly easier and faster for them to diagnose your yellow tongue properly. Another option for them to diagnose a yellow tongue is via a blood sample.

Why does yellow tongue usually disappear after eating certain foods?

When you eat food that has a high pH level (above 7), your tongue will turn yellow because of the increased acidity. This is part of the body’s natural process of neutralizing the food’s acids. Once the tongue returns to its natural color, you’ll be able to eat again without any issue. This is why it’s important to know the different types of food and what causes their respective pH levels. For example, if you eat a food with a high pH level, like citrus or tomatoes, make sure to chew well and eat small portions at a time. Doing so will help to reduce the chances of having an adverse reaction to the food.

Is it necessary to see a doctor if my symptoms persist for more than a few days?

If your symptoms persist for more than a few days, it’s best to consult a doctor. When the doctor confirms that yellowing of the tongue is the only cause of your symptoms and that there are no other medical issues at play, they will usually give you recommendations on how to treat the condition. However, most people find success with home remedies like gargling with salt water or eating bitter foods. Consulting a professional is always the best option for greater results.

How can I treat yellow tongue naturally?

If you are experiencing yellow tongue, the best way to treat it is by gargling with salt water and drinking lots of fluids. If you are having a hard time swallowing, try eating soft foods like fruits or vegetables. If the color is not going away after 3 days, consult a doctor.


If you’re experiencing yellow tongue, it’s important to consult your dentist first. Dental professionals can diagnose yellow tongue with a simple tongue test. If the test is positive, your dentist may prescribe some mouthwash or antibiotics to treat the condition. In some cases, yellow tongue can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as oral thrush, candida overgrowth, or a poor diet. Be sure to consult your dentist if you’re experiencing yellow tongue for more than two weeks and have no relief from the symptoms listed above.
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