Yellow Tongue – Different Causes and Treatment

Colour change is one of the most common ways that the body reacts when there is something wrong. In the mouth, our teeth become brownish when decayed, and our gums and palate show white spots when there is an infection. A yellow tongue is also a sign of some pathology of the tongue.

Most of the reasons for a yellow tongue are minor conditions that are treatable. Your tongue may become yellow because of problems like Jaundice, oral infections, geographic tongue, and black hairy tongue.


Moving further, you will read about the various common causes and management of yellow tongue.

Causes of Yellow Tongue


Jaundice is a condition that affects the liver. It also makes your tongue, eyes, and skin appear pale yellow. This happens because of a pigment called bilirubin.

It collects in the blood because of a dysfunction in the red blood cells. Though the tongue is not commonly affected, it may show a pale-yellow appearance along with other body tissues. (1)

Other symptoms of jaundice are fatigue, fever, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

Treatment of Jaundice

Jaundice can occur due to different factors. If it is due to hepatitis, the liver gets inflamed, and your doctor will give you medicines to treat it.

If it is because of some disorder of your blood cells, you will be prescribed medicines that increase iron content. In severe cases, blood transfusion is effective.

Since jaundice is a systemic condition, it requires extensive treatment, and once this is administered, your tongue will become normal too.

Black Hairy Tongue

This condition is called black hairy tongue, but it turns yellow, gray or brown before becoming black. A black hairy tongue is a condition in which the papillae on your tongue enlarge, and there is build up of food and bacteria inside them.

Though there is no specific cause to it, it is a consequence of poor oral hygiene. (2) It appears alarming, but it is resolved by improving oral health and getting rid of the bacteria.

Along with the discoloration on the tongue, you will feel an altered taste perception and an unpleasant smell from the mouth.

You need to visit a dentist if the condition does not resolve despite working on your oral hygiene.

Geographic Tongue

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition in which small red or white patches develop on the tongue. These are bordered by yellow pigmentation. There is no specific known cause of this condition which is more common in children.

It is called a geographic tongue because the shapeless patches make the tongue look like a map. Medically, this condition is called benign migratory glossitis, giving us an indication of its harmless nature.

It also has a genetic predisposition. (3) The patches may be painful, but they usually resolve on their own.


Xerostomia is a condition where the mouth becomes dry. This happens because of reduced saliva production in the mouth. In dry conditions, bacterial population of the mouth increases and there is foul smell from the mouth.

In addition to all this, the tongue becomes dull yellow because of the pigmentation of the bacteria. People who breathe through their mouth are at an increased risk of developing dry mouth and eventually they also get tongue pigmentation.

Treatment of Xerostomia

Xerostomia can be because of systemic causes like diabetes, or radiation therapy. It can also be a side effect of some medications. So, to get rid of a dry mouth, you must first know the cause and treat it.

You can use salivary substitutes available in the market. Increase your water intake and chew on a sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production.

Systemic Illnesses

Eczema is an auto-immune condition which helps bacteria to thrive in the mouth. Since the body’s immune system is weak, the microbial population on the tongue increases and causes yellow discoloration of the tongue.

If you have bacteria in your gut or your stomach lining, they are also responsible for a yellow tongue. Gastritis due to H.Pylori is often associated with a yellow tongue.

Diabetes mellitus patients also show a higher prevalence of yellow tongue, than the average population. This is because of the dry mouth that the patients suffer from. (4)

Gastritis is treated with antacids and antibiotics to kill the bacteria. The treatment of eczema is anti-inflammatory medicines and corticosteroid medicines. The yellow discoloration because of these conditions will subside once the disease is taken care of.


There are some medicines which can predispose a person to develop a yellow tongue. Some antibiotics disrupt the microbial balance in the mouth, and the population of the pigment-producing bacteria increases, resulting in a yellow tongue.

Chlorhexidine, a common constituent of mouthwashes also causes yellow discoloration of the tongue. Iron supplements and oral hypoglycemic drugs are dew other common medications which cause yellow tongue.

Other medicines which can cause this condition are anti-psychotic drugs, cancer medicines, and bismuth salts.

The yellow tinge on the tongue disappears gradually once you discontinue the medicine. Remember, you should never stop any medication on your own without consulting a doctor.

Food and Habits

Some foods temporarily make your tongue yellow after you eat them. These are the foods which have dyes, coloring agents or excessively sugary candies.

Tobacco is a harmful habit which makes your tongue yellow or brownish if you chew on it and smoke it.

The most obvious way to stop this is to quit harmful habits. This will improve your overall oral and systemic health too!


Poor Oral Hygiene

It is quite simple- if you don’t keep your mouth clean, bacteria will make an environment for themselves there. People who don’t clean their tongue will see that it turns yellow over time.

This is because of the accumulation of bacteria over the tongue. These microbes release yellow pigments which gather over the tongue’s papillae along with food debris.

Ways to improve your Oral Hygiene to prevent Yellow Tongue

  • Nothing can substitute good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth and clean your tongue twice daily. Rinse your mouth whenever you eat something. Brush over your tongue or use a tongue scraper.
  • You can use an alcohol-free mouthwash to supplement brushing.
  • If you experience any symptoms like the foul smell from your mouth or pigmentation on the tongue or gums, then visit your dentist for a check-up. Even in the absence of any such problems, schedule a dental visit every six months.
  • Reduce your intake of sweets, and the frequency of snacking in between meals. Also stop harmful habits like smoking, tobacco chewing and drinking alcohol.
  • Include high fiber foods in your diet to improve your gastrointestinal health, which improves your oral health too.
  • Patients having orthodontic plates or habit breaking appliances should take extra care to keep their teeth and tongue clean.

Wrapping up

A yellow tongue is not only unpleasant to look at, but it indicates a variety of health issues- some of which may be serious. Even if it is just a bacterial invasion, a yellow tongue is a sign that you need to work on your oral hygiene.


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