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.
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.
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.
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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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:
In some cases, yellow tongue indicates an underlying medical condition, such as:
In most cases, yellow tongue causes no symptoms other than tongue discoloration. If you have yellow tongue, you may also develop:
A healthcare provider will diagnose yellow tongue after an oral evaluation. Often, dentists detect yellow tongue symptoms during a routine dental exam.
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.
Proper oral hygiene is the best way to prevent yellow tongue. For best results, you should:
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.
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.
You should call your healthcare provider right away if you:
If you have yellow tongue, here are a few questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2022.
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