Yellow Tongue

Yellow tongue is discoloration of your tongue due to the buildup of dead skin cells. Most of the time, it’s the result of poor oral hygiene. People who use tobacco products or take certain medications are more likely to develop yellow tongue. In most cases, yellow tongue is harmless. Improved oral hygiene usually resolves the issue.


Causes and indications of yellow tongue.
Yellow tongue could be a result of smoking, poor oral hygiene or other causes. But it could also indicate an underlying health condition, such as autoimmune disorders.

Why is my tongue yellow?

Yellow tongue is a yellow discoloration of your tongue. In most cases, this condition is harmless and temporary. It usually happens when dead skin cells become trapped in your papillae (tiny, hair-like projections on your tongue). The dead skin cells accumulate on your papillae and become stained by things like food and tobacco.

Most people recover completely from yellow tongue. Self-care and better attention to oral hygiene usually resolve the issue.

What does a yellowish tongue mean?

A variety of factors may cause tongue discoloration. As mentioned above, it’s usually the result of dead skin cells that accumulate on your tongue. Rarely, a yellow coating on your tongue indicates underlying conditions, such as jaundice or certain autoimmune diseases.

Who does yellow tongue affect?

Anyone can develop yellow tongue. People who use tobacco products or take certain medications are more likely to have tongue discoloration.


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes yellow tongue?

Yellow tongue may indicate a condition called black hairy tongue. This syndrome occurs when keratin, a protein, builds up on your tongue surface. This buildup gives your tongue a hairy appearance.

Other yellow tongue causes may include:

  • Poor oral hygiene.
  • Smoking.
  • Chewing tobacco.
  • Overgrowth of bacteria on the surface of your tongue.
  • Certain foods.
  • Certain mouthwash ingredients, such as chlorhexidine, alcohol and menthol.

In some cases, yellow tongue indicates an underlying medical condition, such as:

  • Autoimmune diseases. People with autoimmune diseases have weaker immune systems. If you have an autoimmune disorder, you’re more likely to develop yellow tongue.
  • Gastritis. Inflammation of your stomach lining can lead to yellow tongue — particularly if the bacteria Helicobacter pylori caused the inflammation.
  • Psoriasis. This condition causes flaky, scaly skin. It may also result in yellow patches on your tongue surface.
  • Jaundice. Rarely, yellow tongue is a symptom of an underlying condition called jaundice. If you have jaundice, a yellow chemical compound called bilirubin builds up in your blood. It can cause yellow skin (including the skin on your tongue) and a yellowing of the whites of your eyes. This buildup may indicate liver damage or dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of yellow tongue?

In most cases, yellow tongue causes no symptoms other than tongue discoloration. If you have yellow tongue, you may also develop:


Diagnosis and Tests

How is yellow tongue diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose yellow tongue after an oral evaluation. Often, dentists detect yellow tongue symptoms during a routine dental exam.

Management and Treatment

How do you get rid of a yellow tongue?

In most cases, proper oral hygiene practices resolve yellow tongue completely. A toothbrush or tongue scraper may help remove any bacteria or other buildup on the surface of your tongue.



Can I prevent yellow tongue?

Proper oral hygiene is the best way to prevent yellow tongue. For best results, you should:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times a day using a soft toothbrush and nonabrasive fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss between your teeth once daily using dental floss or interproximal brushes.
  • Use your toothbrush or a tongue scraper to remove dead skin cells and bacteria from the surface of your tongue.
  • Swish with an alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthwash twice a day.
  • Visit your dentist for routine exams and cleanings (every six months or according to the schedule your dentist recommends).
  • If you smoke, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to stop.

In addition, visit your provider if you have yellow tongue as a result of an illness or from taking certain medications. They can help you find ways to reduce your risk for yellow tongue.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the outlook for people with yellow tongue?

In most cases, yellow tongue is harmless and usually goes away with good oral hygiene. However, if you developed yellow tongue as a symptom of jaundice or other serious medical conditions, you should see a healthcare provider right away for treatment.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should call your healthcare provider right away if you:

  • Have symptoms of jaundice, including a yellow tongue, yellowish whites of your eyes and yellow skin.
  • Still have a yellow tongue after making lifestyle changes (such as improving your oral hygiene or quitting smoking).
  • Notice symptoms that worsen for no obvious reason.
  • Develop symptoms of black hairy tongue, such as prominent papillae on your tongue that look like hair or fur.
  • Have mouth or tongue pain.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you have yellow tongue, here are a few questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Why is my tongue yellow?
  • Is the yellow coating on my tongue due to a lack of oral hygiene or something else?
  • Are there changes I can make to reduce my risk for yellow tongue in the future?
  • Is tongue discoloration due to an underlying medical condition?
  • Will I need further testing and evaluation?
  • Will I need treatment?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Yellow tongue is tongue discoloration due to a buildup of dead skin cells. While the condition can look alarming, it’s usually not dangerous. Most of the time, it goes away with proper oral hygiene practices. But if you still have yellow tongue, even after making lifestyle changes, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can find out why you developed yellow tongue and recommend appropriate treatment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/26/2022.

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