Yellow Tongue: (Causes, Treatment, & Who is at Risk)

What does a yellow tongue signal? Read more for common symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Yellow Tongue Overview

Yellow tongue is a condition that causes a yellow discoloration to develop on a person’s tongue.

Yellow Tongue: (Causes, Treatment, & Who is at Risk)
A harmless buildup of dead skin cells on the tiny projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue. Shutterstock Images

The condition can be either temporary or it can be a sign of another condition known as a black hairy tongue – which can become a long term problem if the issue is not treated promptly.

There are many causes for this problem and sometimes it can be a problem as simple as not taking care of your oral hygiene properly.

Fortunately, when yellow tongue develops, a person is often able to treat the issue with several self-care home remedies and usually do not have to receive medical treatment.

We are going to take a look at the many causes, symptoms and the possible treatment options that are available to get rid of the tongue discoloration.

What are the Symptoms of Yellow Tongue?

When it comes to diagnosing yourself with a yellow tongue, it is important to also consider the symptoms that are associated with this oral health condition.

When these symptoms are present, then the chances are higher that you have developed the condition and need to act upon the problem as soon as you can to avoid further complications – and to avoid the problem turning into an even bigger problem (black hairy tongue).

These are the most common symptoms that have been associated with the yellow tongue:

  • The most obvious symptom is a yellow discoloration that develops on the tongue.
  • The yellow discoloration is sometimes accompanied by red spots or bumps. These spots can develop on the tongue, the tonsils and on the throat.
  • Bad taste is often experienced in the mouth and a person with yellow tongue often has bad breath.
  • A person with this oral health condition often finds that their mouth is very dry and they sometimes experience a burning sensation in their mouth.
  • In some cases, the patient’s throat may be sore. This symptom is often accompanied by a fever.
Symptoms of Yellow Tongue

Yellow discoloration is often accompanied by sore throat & fever. Shutterstock Images

Causes of Yellow Tongue

In order to completely understand health or medical condition, it is vital to know the causes of the specific condition.

This will help a person avoid certain elements that may increase their risk of developing a particular condition.

The most common cause of yellow tongue[1] is a dead skin cell buildup on the tongue.

These dead skin cells build up on the papillae, which is small projections that are located on the tongue’s surface.

The papillae can swell up and contain bacteria – this bacteria is what causes the colored pigments on the tongue.

Other elements that may also contribute to the development of yellow tongue:

  • Certain antibiotics cause a microbe imbalance. When this occurs, yeast or bacteria can pile up on the tongue and lead to yellow tongue.
  • Mouthwash products that contain substances known as oxidizing agents can also contribute towards the development of this condition.
  • If oral health is not up to standards, then bacterial may develop excessively on the tongue and become yellow. Tobacco smoke and some foods can contribute towards the yellow discoloration of the bacteria[2].
  • After a tongue piercing, tonsillectomy or tooth extraction, the papillae of the tongue may become inflamed. This may lead to yellow tongue.
  • Other causes include UTIs, post-nasal drainage, Scarlet fever, dehydration, acid reflux, food that contains yellow dye and Jaundice, a condition where problems with the liver cause the skin and eyes to appear yellow.

Treatment for Yellow Tongue

When a person has developed a yellow tongue, they should not immediately go into a panic.

The condition usually only lasts for a few days and can be taken care of with simple home remedies.

The best way to start treating the condition is to up your oral hygiene regimen.

Purchase a toothbrush that has a built-in tongue cleaner – be sure to make use of the tongue cleaner to properly clean your entire tongue.

When you are done, clean the toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide and water mixture.

After brushing your teeth, you should rinse your mouth with regular water for a couple of times.

Treatment for Yellow Tongue

To treat a yellow tongue, brush & rinse your mouth out several times with water. Shutterstock Images

If you have recently discovered that you have a yellow tongue, then you can also try these tips if simply improving your dental care routine doesn’t do the trick:

  • Switch to mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol. Listerine Zero and Oral-B Sensitive are two popular zero-alcohol mouthwash products.
  • Include more fiber-rich foods in your diet – examples are vegetables and fruit. These foods will help to clean up bacteria on your tongue.
  • Ensure you consume an adequate amount of water every single day. Remember that dehydration can also contribute to yellow tongue[3].
  • If you smoke, then consider quitting the bad habit. This will not only help you avoid the condition from becoming worse but will also improve your overall physical health.
  • If the condition does not appear to go away after a week of treatment, then you should contact a doctor to ensure there are no medical reasons behind your oral condition.


Oral health should be an important part of your daily routine.

Optimum oral health has many benefits for you and also means you will take fewer trips to the dentist’s office.

The yellow tongue is a condition that can present itself when oral health lacks, but the condition can also be caused by other elements.

Knowing about the symptoms, causes and the best treatment methods is important as the condition can lead to a worse problem if not treated efficiently.

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Dr. Steven Lin, B.D

Dr. Steven Lin is a dentist, speaker, and author of the upcoming book, The Dental Diet (January 18’). His work aims to bridge the gap

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