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Why Your Tongue Is Yellow and Tips on How to Change It Back to Pink

8 minute read


What do you do when you’re brushing your teeth and notice that your tongue is yellow? The shade of pink may vary from person to person, but nobody expects to see a yellow tongue.

For the most part, a yellow tongue is harmless and will go away on its own, but you should be aware of the possible causes. Knowing what is causing your yellow tongue will help you to get it cleared up efficiently and prevent it from coming back in the future.

What Causes Yellow Tongue?

The yellow appearance on your tongue is caused by a buildup of bacteria and skin cells. The most common cause is poor oral hygiene.

When the bacteria are allowed to accumulate, it appears as a yellow coating on the surface of your tongue. Your mouth is exposed to bacteria all day long through the food you consume, so proper oral hygiene is important to minimize the effects of these bacteria.

Bacteria releases chemicals that contribute to the yellow coloring. Brushing your tongue will remove this coating temporarily, but if poor oral hygiene continues, your tongue will continue to have this yellow appearance.

Food particles can also become trapped in between your teeth, and this can also cause a yellow coating. Improving your dental practices should clear up the problem, and if not, you may need to speak with your doctor.

Jaundice is also another possible cause for a yellow tongue, but you will likely notice that your skin and the whites of your eyes have a yellow tint too, if this is the cause. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced when red blood cells break down, and too much of this causes yellow coloring in the body. Your liver typically filters bilirubin, so a buildup and jaundice can be a sign of liver damage.

If jaundice and poor brushing practices are not the cause, then your yellow tongue may be caused by one of several other factors.

Dry Mouth

Breathing through your mouth (mouth breathing) can cause your mouth to dry out and your tongue to turn yellow. Saliva in your mouth washes bacteria away, and when there is a lack of saliva (dry mouth), then bacteria can accumulate and coat the surface of your tongue. Breathing through your mouth, along with certain medications, can cause dry mouth. Keeping yourself regularly hydrated can help reduce dry mouth and prevent bacteria buildup and yellow tongue.

Black Hairy Tongue

This is a condition where the little bumps on your tongue (papillae) grow too large. The condition is harmless, but bacteria and food particles can collect on the surface of these large bumps and alter their appearance. Often the bumps will turn yellow before they turn black. So yellow tongue may be a sign of this condition, and you should speak to your doctor about it.

Geographic Tongue

This condition is marked by missing patches of papillae on your tongue. Doctors are uncertain as to why this happens, but it is known to run in families. The name of the condition comes from the fact that the patches make your tongue look like a map. These patches are often red but can also be yellow, and sometimes painful.

Other Causes

Medications that contain bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol, can change the color of your tongue. Colors can range from yellow to black. Mouthwashes that contain menthol, witch hazel, or peroxide can also cause a yellow coloring to your tongue’s surface. In addition to this, smoking is known to contribute to poor oral hygiene and can cause a yellow film to develop on the tongue.

For the most part, a yellow tongue will go away on its own. Because there are some causes of yellow tongue that may need the help of a doctor and treatment, there are specific symptoms to watch for. If you happen to wake up with a yellow tongue, and you notice any of the symptoms below, you should speak to your doctor right away.

♦ If the yellow doesn’t go away after a few weeks

♦ If your tongue hurts

♦ If the whites of your eyes are also yellow

♦ If you show other symptoms of liver damage such as abdominal pain, blood in your stools, fever, and easy bleeding or bruising.

Treatment of Yellow Tongue

It's important to determine if the cause of your yellow tongue is jaundice, as this would indicate that your liver is unhealthy. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, your liver can become further damaged.

Jaundice can also cause other symptoms such as enlargement of your spleen, liver failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, swelling in your legs and stomach, and liver cancer. Because you only get one liver, it's important to identify jaundice and seek treatment right away.

Jaundice can be treated depending on what caused the bilirubin buildup in the first place. If hepatitis infection is the cause, then you will need to get medication from your doctor. If it is a blood disorder like sickle-cell anemia, then doctors will give you medicines that bind iron to your blood cells. You should also reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, as this will contribute to liver damage.

Treating jaundice and liver problems will require help from your doctor. If the cause is something else, you can treat it yourself.

If poor oral hygiene is to blame, then you need to change your dental care routine. Brush twice a day and floss once daily as well as use a fluoride mouthwash. You also need to be checking in with your dentist every six weeks for a cleaning and checkup. It also helps to cut back on sticky foods, sugar, and soda.

| Related: Naturally Remove Tartar From Teeth With These 19 Tips |

If the cause is back hairy tongue, the best treatment options are to quit smoking (if you smoke), and brush twice daily as well as after every meal. It also helps to rinse your mouth with water throughout the day. Plus, you can benefit from all of the other health advantages of quitting smoking.

For geographic tongue, over the counter pain medications can help. If the discomfort is severe, you may need to get medicated rinses and ointments from your doctor.

To treat dry mouth, you may be prescribed a mouthwash that helps increase saliva production in your mouth. Chewing gum is another great way to increase saliva production.

If medications are the cause of the dry mouth, then you may need to switch to another option or change your dosage. You also want to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. You can also add a humidifier to your room if you know that you breathe through your mouth when you sleep.

The Bottom Line

Most cases of yellow tongue are harmless, and can often be easily treatable. Causes can range from bad oral hygiene to a serious health problem, so you should keep an eye out for worsening symptoms. The tongue can be a good indicator of something more serious, so if worsening symptoms develop your doctor should make the final diagnosis.

The first step to treating yellow tongue is to identify the cause. Because the cause is most often linked to poor oral hygiene, developing a healthy dental care routine is key to treating existing yellow tongue and preventing it from happening again.

READ NEXT >>> What Your Tongue Color and Appearance Indicates


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