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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Clearing Up a Yellow Tongue

Updated: May 10

We all like to look our best and make a great impression, so it can be disheartening when something is off with our appearance.

That includes a yellow tongue.

When you do not feel as though your mouth looks good or healthy, you may hesitate to laugh, speak and socialize. Rather than try to hide it, learn why this may be an issue and how to clear it up.

What Causes a Yellow Tongue?

There’s a few common reasons your tongue looks yellow, most of which have to do with buildup developing on the tongue.

Dead skin cells and bacteria can get stuck on the surface of the tongue and then become discolored.

That leaves you with an appearance you would rather not have.

Hygiene Issues

Hygiene concerns are high on the list of problems that can make your tongue look yellow.

If the mouth is not cleaned regularly and thoroughly, bacteria can grow to higher levels than needed.

That bacteria feeds on dead skin cells trapped on the bumps of your tongue and then produces a yellow pigment that stands out on the tissue (1).

Dry Mouth

Excessive bacteria growth that leads to a yellow tongue can also be caused by dry mouth.

Saliva clears out bacteria in the mouth, so when you do not have enough of it, things can start to get out of balance.

Anyone who breathes through their mouth often can suffer from a dry mouth and, therefore, a discolored tongue.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco has a well-earned reputation for discoloring surfaces, from walls to fabrics.

The same thing can happen in your mouth. Tobacco can stain any film that may be on your tongue.

This is especially a side effect of chewing tobacco. In addition, smoking can also lead to dry mouth, encouraging bacteria growth.


Many medications can cause yellow tongue as a side effect.

A wide variety of medicines could be the cause, from prescriptions to over-the-counter drugs.

Antibiotics, iron supplements, nausea medicine, diabetes treatments, and more can all lead to changes in the body that either stain the tongue or trigger increases in the bacteria levels on your tongue.


It seems like mouthwash and other oral antiseptics would be a good way to keep bacteria levels in your mouth low, but they can actually lead to problems.

Your mouth is a carefully balanced miniature ecosystem.

When too much of a certain kind of bacteria is wiped out, other varieties that can cause your tongue to change color can increase.

In addition to mouthwash, gargling with peroxide or menthol products can have the same effect.

Black Hairy Tongue

This condition sounds scarier than it is; it is actually a bit misnamed (2).

Black hairy tongue results from the bumps on your tongue becoming aggravated and enlarged.

They hold more dead skin cells and debris, making your tongue look hairy or fuzzy.

Despite the name, that fuzz can be yellow or another color. In most cases, there are no harmful symptoms with this diagnosis.

Illnesses and Medical Conditions

Occasionally, a person will notice their tongue seems yellow without any apparent causes.

There is a chance that an underlying health issue is to blame.

Oral thrush can contribute to bacterial overgrowth and can be cleared up quickly.

Autoimmune diseases can also disrupt your mouth's ability to regulate bacteria, leading to an environment where a yellow tongue can develop.

It's essential to watch out for jaundice, an illness that happens when the liver isn't functioning correctly.

This can cause yellowness in various parts of the body. If there is a yellow hue in the eyes or skin as well as the tongue, jaundice may be the cause and needs to be treated.

Getting Rid of Yellow Color on the Tongue

In most situations, the yellow color on your tongue won't hurt you and is a symptom of something minor.

However, it can still make you self-conscious and impact how you live your life, so it's a good idea to know how to get rid of it.

Oral Care

The easiest place to start is with your oral care routine.

Reexamine how you clean your mouth. It's recommended that you brush twice a day with toothpaste (3).

During those brushing sessions, consider using a tongue scraper to remove any dead cells or debris that could turn yellow.

Rinse your mouth well with water.

It is also a good idea to reduce the use of nonessential mouthwashes and other oral rinses.

If they are not needed for a specific reason, they may throw the bacteria in your mouth out of balance and make problems worse.

Behavioral Changes

Anyone dealing with a yellow tongue should also cut out habits that contribute to problems in their mouth.

Tobacco users should quit smoking and chewing nicotine.

If you have a dry mouth often, see if you can improve your breathing so that air comes through your nose and not your mouth.

A dry mouth can also happen when you are dehydrated, so make sure to drink plenty of water.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor for advice when you can't seem to clear up a yellow discoloration on your tongue.

A doctor could recommend an alternative treatment for cases where medication is to blame.

If there seems to be no apparent cause, it may be a good time to test for other potential conditions and start getting to the source of the problem.

Start Clearing Up Yellow Tongue

You do not have to hide away or worry about what others will think when your tongue looks a bit yellow.

Instead, you can take control and get to the root of what has caused this change in your body.

By assessing your behaviors and risk factors and making deliberate changes, you can get rid of your yellow tongue and become confident in your mouth again.

Find more ways to take control of your health by checking out Clinical Effects today (4).

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