Yellow tongue is a harmless condition that causes a thick, yellow coating on the tongue. Yellow tongue tends to appear when dead skin cells, bacteria, or discoloring particles become trapped or buildup on the tongue's surface. Most of the time, yellow tongue clears up with basic home care. But on rare occasions, the condition is a symptom of a more serious health condition that requires medical attention. The signs of yellow tongue vary depending on the cause. In the majority of cases, basic at home care, especially good oral hygiene, resolves cases of yellow tongue within a matter of days to weeks.
Yellow tongue usually occurs as a result of a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the tongue. Most commonly, this occurs when your papillae become enlarged and bacteria in your mouth produce colored pigments. Also, the longer-than-normal papillae can easily trap cells that have shed, which become stained by tobacco, food or other substances. Mouth breathing or dry mouth may also be linked to yellow tongue.
Other causes of a yellow tongue may include, for example:
- Black hairy tongue
- Geographic tongue
Common symptoms associated with yellow tongue include:
- bad breath
- additional white patches
- a bad taste
- small, raised bumps on the tongue
- dry mouth
- the appearance of hair or fur on the tongue
When to see a doctor
Medical treatment for yellow tongue isn't necessary in most cases. If tongue discoloration bothers you, try gently brushing your tongue with a solution that is 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 5 parts water once a day. Rinse your mouth with water afterward several times.
Schedule a doctor's visit if:
- You're concerned about persistent discoloration of your tongue
- Your skin or the whites of your eyes also appear yellow, as this may suggest jaundice
Who is at risk of yellow tongue?
Though anyone can develop yellow tongue at any age, a few factors are known to increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Risk factors for yellow tongue include:
- poor oral hygiene
- tobacco use
- alcohol use
- neurological conditions
Treatment and prevention options
Oral hygiene is an essential factor. The same habits and remedies that help treat yellow tongue also help prevent it. Some ways to treat and prevent yellow tongue include:
- increasing frequency and thoroughness of teeth brushing
- brushing the teeth or rinsing using an antibacterial mouth rinse after meals
- brushing the tongue gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush
- applying baking soda directly to the tongue for 60 seconds before rinsing off
- quitting smoking or using tobacco products
Are there any complications?
The only complications associated with yellow tongue are those linked to more serious underlying conditions, such as jaundice.
Potential complications of jaundice include:
- liver scarring, failure, and cancer
- gastrointestinal inflammation, damage, and swelling
- fluid retention and swelling in the lower body
- cerebral palsy and deafness are severe complications in newborns
If your tongue remains yellow after a week’s time, see your doctor in order to check what is going on. Or in case you begin to notice accompanying symptoms along with the presence of your yellow tongue that is also a good indication that you need medical attention as something serious is going on.