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There are various reasons one might notice their tongue has taken on a yellowish tinge. Most of the causes of a yellow tongue can be treated at home; in rare instances, however, a yellow tongue can indicate a larger medical issue that should be investigated by a doctor or dentist.

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Defining a Yellow Tongue

"Yellow tongue" typically refers to a yellow, gold, or orange-ish discoloration on the surface of the tongue. The colored coating can be thick or thin, depending on the individual's oral hygiene practices and diet. In some cases, this discoloration is on the inner part of the tongue, with the edges appearing the standard pink.

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The Effects of Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is one of the primary causes of a yellow tongue. Smoke and nicotine in chewing tobacco stain the tongue and may irritate the papillae, causing them to swell. Swollen papillae are more likely to trap bacteria and irritants, which causes discoloration. Routine oral care can decrease the effects of tobacco use, but quitting smoking or chewing tobacco is the only way to eliminate the problem.

tobacco causes yellow tongue subinpumsom / Getty Images
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Poor Dental Hygiene

Regularly brushing the teeth, gums, and tongue is an essential daily ritual. Poor dental hygiene can cause a yellow tongue; failing to remove bacteria and food particles that are trapped by the papillae will cause staining to occur as they break down. Luckily, when this is the primary cause of discoloration, improving hygiene practices should be an easy fix. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day.

oral hygiene and yellow tongue PeopleImages / Getty Images
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Black Hairy Tongue

The name says it all, except that a black hairy tongue can also be yellow or another color. The symptom stems from the failure of the papillae to shed correctly. As they lengthen, the tiny projections trap food and particles. Over time, the papillae change color. A metallic taste and itching or tickling sensations are common symptoms of black hairy tongue. Medications, poor oral hygiene, an overly dry mouth, and even excessive caffeine can cause this issue. Tongue scraping or brushing, combined with good oral hygiene, should improve the condition. Persistent symptoms should prompt a medical visit.

Jaundice

Babies and children can also develop a yellow tongue, and in some cases, it could be indicative of jaundice. This condition is caused by an excess of the waste compound bilirubin, which can turn skin and eyes a yellowish color. When this condition develops in babies, they may require phototherapy.

jaundice and yellow tongue phakimata / Getty Images

Oral Hygiene Ingredients

Ironically, some ingredients in oral hygiene products may discolor the tongue and teeth. Common culprits include menthol, alcohol, thymol, witch hazel, and peroxide. If this is the cause of a yellow tongue, simply switching mouthwashes and toothpaste brands should eliminate the problem. People whose tongue and teeth are prone to discoloration should avoid mouthwashes and toothpaste with dyes.

oral hygiene stained yellow tongue supermimicry / Getty Images

Diseases That Cause a Yellow Tongue

Numerous diseases and condition have a yellow tongue as a symptom, including

  • An overgrowth of yeast in the body.
  • Strep throat
  • Diabetes
  • Hepatitis
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Mononucleosis
  • Psoriasis

The symptom may also occur as the result of a poor immune system, which can be caused by many issues including AIDS and HIV.

Post-Nasal Drip

Post-nasal drip often occurs with a sinus infection and sore throat, following a cold or the flu, and can cause the tongue to turn yellow. Treating the underlying condition will generally eradicate the discoloration when this is the cause. Brushing the tongue regularly with one part hydrogen peroxide and four parts of water may also reduce the appearance. Be careful not to swallow hydrogen peroxide.

post-nasal drip and yellow tongue georgeclerk / Getty Images

A Yellow Tongue and Cancer

A yellow tongue is rarely a sign of cancer when it occurs without other associated symptoms, such as mouth sores that will not heal, weight loss, weakness, and jaundice. If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, or if a yellow tongue remains longer than a week after improving oral hygiene practices, he or she should see a doctor.

Scraping the Tongue

While many people brush their tongues, toothpaste bristles can be ineffective or too rough, Dentists often recommend using a tongue scraper to remove plaque, food particles, and irritants. Work from the back of the tongue to the front to avoid swallowing any bacteria. Brush and floss following tongue scraping, and follow up with mouthwash. Thoroughly clean the tongue scraper and allow it to air dry after each use.

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.