Have a yellow tongue instead of pink? Know why it happens and what to do

A yellow tongue may be a hygiene issue, but there are more causes. Also, here are some effective tips to get rid of a yellow tongue.
Yellow tongue causes and treatment
Know all about why you have a yellow tongue! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 28 Nov 2023, 01:15 pm IST
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A healthy tongue generally looks pinkish, so if it turns yellow, it may worry you. Yellow tongue is a term used to describe an area of the tongue that has a greyish-yellow coating on it which may cover the entire tongue or may appear in patches. It’s usually just a sign of trapped food or dead cells on your tongue. While the causes are many, you should also know the ways to get rid of a yellow tongue.

Our tongue is covered with food receptors called papillae which are in the form of tiny bumps on the surface of your tongue. Food and debris get collected here because of the large surface area of the papillae. As a result, you may end up with a yellow tongue and bad breath, explains internal medicine specialist Dr Tushar Tayal.

Woman showing her tongue
A yellow tongue may be due to poor oral hygiene. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the causes of a yellow tongue?

Your favourite curry with a lot of turmeric may turn your tongue yellow. Here are some more causes:

• Smoking
• Chewing tobacco
• Poor oral hygiene
• Wearing dentures or false teeth
• Dehydration
• Regular alcohol consumption
• Too much tea and coffee consumption

Yellow tongue may also be indicative of certain medical conditions:

1. Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a harmless condition in which patches on the surface of the tongue are missing papillae, says the expert. These patches are smooth and red, often with slightly raised whitish borders. Geographic tongue sometimes can cause tongue pain and make you more sensitive to certain foods such as spices, salt and sweets. Geographic tongue does not require treatment.

2. Oral lichen planus

This is a chronic inflammatory condition which can cause whitish yellow, lace-like patches inside the mouth along with ulcers, pain or a burning sensation and swelling and redness. It is an autoimmune condition. Topical or oral corticosteroids may be used for treatment.

3. Jaundice

Jaundice causes the skin and eyes to turn yellow. It happens when your liver is inflamed and is not able to process bilirubin which then accumulates in the body and may cause yellowish discolouration of the underside of the tongue. You need get treated for jaundice first.

4. Oral thrush

It is a fungal infection caused by the Candida yeast. If you are affected, you may have off-white or yellow patches in the mouth and on the tongue with unpleasant taste or loss of taste, pain and soreness. Anti-fungal medication works well to treat this.

5. Medication

Some medicines such as anti-malaria drugs, oral contraceptives and HIV drugs may cause discolouration of the tongue.

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6. Dry mouth

Dry mouth is marked by a lack of adequate saliva in your mouth which can cause bacteria buildup and lead to yellow patches on your tongue. Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, radiation and chemotherapy can cause dry mouth.

How to get rid of yellow tongue?

If there is a medical condition, you have to find ways to treat it or manage it. Other ways are:

1. Good oral hygiene

This is the most important step in preventing and treating yellow tongue. Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time, and floss once a day, suggests Dr Tayal. You should also use a tongue scraper or soft-bristled toothbrush to gently remove bacteria and debris from the surface of your tongue.

2. Quit smoking

Smoking can irritate your tongue and make it more susceptible to discolouration. If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and it will also help to improve the appearance of your tongue.

Woman's tongue
Stop smoking if you want to get rid of a yellow tongue. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Increase your fibre intake

Fibre helps to stimulate saliva production, which can help to keep your tongue clean and moist. Aim to eat at least 25 to 35 grams of fibre per day, says the expert. So, start having more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

4. Use a hydrogen peroxide rinse

Hydrogen peroxide has antibacterial properties that can help to kill the bacteria that cause yellow tongue. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with five parts water, and swish it around in your mouth for 30 seconds before rinsing. Doing this once a day can help.

You should check with your doctor if the yellow tongue colour doesn’t go away.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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