Yellow Tongue 

  • Nadza Dzindo BSc Biomolecular Engineering, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany
  • Samreen Noman Masters in Biomedical Sciences from Univerity of of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, Germany


The term "yellow tongue" describes a thick, yellowish coating on the tongue. It occurs when germs, discolouring particles, or dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of this muscular organ. The most frequent cause of this condition is when the papillae become enlarged, and microorganisms in the mouth generate coloured pigments. Rarely, a yellowish staining of the tongue can be an indication of a problem that requires medical attention. Continue reading to learn what your body is trying to tell you if you notice a yellow tongue when you look in the mirror.

Common causes of yellow tongue

Tongue discolouration may be caused by a number of things. A person's probability of developing a medical condition is known to be increased by a few specific habits, health issues, and medications.1 Some common causes of yellow tongue include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Tobacco use
  • Mouth breathing or dry mouth
  • Dietary Factors
  • Certain medications and drugs
  • Certain medical conditions

Poor Oral Hygiene

Discolouration of the tongue is mainly brought on by poor oral hygiene. The surface of the tongue can get covered in bacteria, dead cells, and debris if appropriate dental hygiene is neglected. If you do not regularly and properly clean your teeth, bacteria, skin cells, and pores can build up on the papillae of your tongue. The tongue may turn yellow as a result of bacteria releasing colours. In spite of the fact that a yellow tongue is typically not harmful, poor oral hygiene can lead to major problems, including gum disease or tooth loss.2 It can also lead to bad breath.

Tobacco use

Tobacco use, including cigarette smoking, is one of the most harmful things we can do to our oral health. The idea that chewing tobacco leads to a lesser nicotine intake is just a widespread myth among chain smokers. That is false since nicotine is consumed in the same amount whether you smoke or chew tobacco. The likelihood of tongue colour changes can be increased by heavy tobacco usage. Cigarette smoke can leave residue on the tongue and stain dead skin cells, which accumulate on the papillae.3 A study performed in 2018 describes a case of a 36-year-old woman who has been smoking 25 cigarettes a day for the last 17 years and developed a soft yellowish tongue with a hairy centre. The course of treatment, which included quitting smoking and improving dental hygiene, led to complete recovery.4


Saliva naturally aids in removing bacteria from the surface of the tongue. Dehydration decreases saliva production, which means that germs and food particles are more likely to stick around cells and cause bacterial overgrowth. As a result, the tongue appears dry and frequently has a white or white-to-yellowish covering. Severe dry mouth can result from both dehydration and mouth breathing, especially during the night.5

Dietary factors

The enlarged papillae are excellent in catching shed cells that become stained by certain foods and substances. Some foods contain colourants or dyes that can turn the tongue yellow or adhere to the tongue and cause discolouration. Examples of these foods and drinks are: 

  • foods that contain yellow dye (such as some supplements and vitamins, candies, chips, mustard, etc.)
  • tea (especially black tea)
  • coffee
  • soft drinks
  • alcohol

Medical conditions associated with yellow tongue

Fungal infections

When an excessive amount of Candida fungus gathers on the tongue, oral thrush, also known as an oral yeast infection, develops. The tongue may appear yellow as a result of this accumulation.

Low levels of the fungus Candida are present in the mouth and digestive system and usually don't cause any issues. However, if they multiply, they can cause oral thrush. This might happen due to a number of reasons, such as:

  • Wearing dentures (fake teeth), especially if they don't fit properly
  • Taking antibiotics, especially for a long period of time or at a high dose 
  • Using an inhaled corticosteroid drug for asthma
  • Having a medical condition or taking drugs that cause dry mouth
  • Smoking
  • Undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer

Gastrointestinal issues

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition which causes the stomach contents to rise into the esophagus. The main symptom of this disease is heartburn. Unfortunately, stomach acid affects more than only the oesophagus, as it can reach the mouth and impact the teeth and tongue. According to some reports, when gastric erosion becomes more severe, the tongue coating gets more yellow.6

Crohn's disease is a lifelong disease that manifests in inflamed parts of the digestive tract. Some Crohn's disease patients experience issues with their tongue or mouth. The capacity to absorb necessary nutrients like iron, or vitamines, may be hampered by Crohn's disease which can lead to changes in color of the tongue.7

Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a disorder named for the patches on the top and sides of the tongue that resemble a map. This benign condition is characterized by missing tongue papillae that leave behind red or white spots, which sometimes seem to have a yellow edge around their perimeters. The geographic tongue typically heals on its own without treatment, although it recurs frequently and typically affects a different part of the tongue. The exact cause of this condition is unknown.8


The disease which turns the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of the eyes yellow is known as jaundice. It occurs as a result of a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment.9 In rare cases, jaundice can lead to a yellow tongue. It may be a sign of liver or pancreas disorders, an infection, a blood disease, or other problems.10

Nutritional deficiencies

A yellow tongue could be caused by a deficiency in vitamins, especially vitamin B12 or iron. Vitamin B12, folate, or vitamin C deficiency results in vitamin deficiency anemia, which is characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells. Lack of iron and vitamin B12 can also lead to a condition known as atrophic glossitis, where the tongue loses its bumpy texture and becomes smooth.

Diagnosis and evaluation

After looking at your tongue and mouth and asking you some questions about your lifestyle and medical history, your doctor will be able to determine the source of your yellow tongue. Additionally, the healthcare professional might also conduct a regular dental examination.

Treatment and management

Try the following preventative measures to lessen some of the risk factors that can result in yellow tongue:

  • Use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste with no abrasives to brush your teeth two to three times per day.
  • To get rid of bacteria and dead skin cells from the surface of your tongue, use a tongue scraper or your toothbrush.
  • If you smoke, discuss ways of quitting with your healthcare professional.
  • Visit your dentist for routine examinations and cleanings at least twice a year or as often as your dentist suggests.
  • Avoid foods and beverages with food colouring, as well as coffee, tea, and alcohol, for a while if you think your tongue is turning yellow as a result of something you are consuming.
  • Antifungal medicines are a simple and effective way to treat oral candidiasis. Some are sold as over-the-counter medicines, while others require a prescription following a doctor's visit. You can also explore several homemade remedies, such as baking soda, probiotics, and apple cider vinegar.
  • Drink lots of water and other fluids to stay hydrated. Avoid using tobacco, chewing gum, alcohol, caffeine, and other substances that can dry out your mouth or prevent saliva from producing.

When to seek medical attention

A yellow tongue might not indicate a dangerous condition. In most instances, maintaining adequate oral hygiene will eliminate the yellow colour. However, it is crucial to seek advice from a medical professional for the right kind of care if there are additional symptoms that could point to the existence of other underlying health issues. These signs include:

  • Jaundice-indicating yellowish tinge to the skin, eyes, nails, etc.
  • Discomfort in the area of the tongue or mouth
  • If a yellow tongue doesn't go away after making lifestyle or dental hygiene improvements
  • The condition is getting worse for no obvious reason.

Make sure to get medical attention right away if you have jaundice, regardless of whether or not you have additional symptoms.


Bacteria, discolouring particles, and dead skin cells can accumulate on the tongue and cause a condition known as the yellow tongue. This condition may seem scary, but it typically poses little threat. A yellow tongue could be brought on by poor dental hygiene, dehydration, smoking, certain medications, mouth breathing, jaundice, and oral thrush. In the majority of cases, it is treatable by maintaining adequate oral hygiene. However, sometimes, particularly when it's accompanied by other obvious symptoms, a yellow tongue can be an indication of more serious health issues, like jaundice. You should consult a doctor if you have a yellow tongue for a prolonged period of time or notice any of the accompanying symptoms.


  1. What can I do to stop having a yellow tongue?

By correctly and frequently brushing your teeth, tongue, gums, and inside of your mouth, you can get rid of a yellow tongue. After each meal, rinse your mouth thoroughly and maintain good teeth and oral health. Consult a medical professional for advice if it doesn't go away after a few days.

  1. Is yellow tongue contagious?

The yellow tongue is not contagious and rarely causes serious issues.11

  1. Can a virus cause a yellow tongue?

The body's bacterial balance and capacity to produce saliva in the mouth can be affected by virus infections like COVID-19. The tongue may turn yellow as a result of this.


  1. Yellow tongue: Causes, treatments, and when to see a doctor [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Sep 23]. Available from:
  2. Understanding Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments of Yellow Tongue [Internet]. Rancho Cucamonga Dentists. 2022 [cited 2023 Sep 23]. Available from:
  3. Yellow Tongue [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. Available from: 
  4. Weinberg A, Albers AE. The yellow hairy tongue. Pan African Medical Journal [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Jan 13];30. Available from:
  5. Yellow tongue: Causes, treatments, and when to see a doctor [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Sep 25]. Available from:
  6. Mosaburo Kainuma, Norihiro Furusyo, Yoshihisa Urita, Hiroaki Ikezaki, Ura K, Toshiya Nakaguchi, et al. Objective tongue color and gastroesophageal reflux disease: Cross‐sectional study. Traditional & Kampo Medicine. 2019 Feb 22;6(1):19–25.
  7. Can Crohn’s Disease Affect Your Tongue? [Internet]. Healthline. 2022 [cited 2023 Sep 26]. Available from:
  8. Geographic Tongue [Internet]. NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders). Available from:
  9. Cleveland Clinic. Adult jaundice [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2018. Available from:
  10. Jaundice: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Available from:
  11. Doctors A. Yellow Tongue: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis and Prevention [Internet]. Apollo Hospitals Blog. 2022 [cited 2023 Sep 26]. Available from: 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nadza Dzindo

BSc Biomolecular Engineering, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany

MSc Genetics and Bioengineering, International Burch University, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nadža is a Biomolecular Engineering graduate with a special interest in red biotechnology and science communication. She has over one year of experience in the healthcare industry working as a Medical Information Associate and communicating accurate medical and scientific information to both members of the public and healthcare professionals. Her goal is to convey accurate, factual, and understandable information to various audiences, whilst further developing her research and writing skills. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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