Yellow tongue usually occurs as a result of a harmless buildup of dead skin cells on the tiny projections (papillae) on the surface of your tongue. Most commonly this occurs when your papillae become enlarged and bacteria in your mouth produce colored pigments.
Also, the longer-than-normal papillae can easily trap cells that have shed, which become stained by tobacco, food or other substances. Mouth breathing or dry mouth may also be linked to yellow tongue.
Other causes of a yellow tongue may include, for example:
- Black hairy tongue
- Geographic tongue
- Jaundice, which sometimes is a sign of another medical condition
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
March 15, 2018
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- Goldstein BG, et al. Oral lesions. http://uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 21, 2015.
- Wolff K, et al. Disorders of the mouth. In: Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 21, 2015.
- Longo DL, et al. Jaundice. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Jan. 21, 2015.
- Jaundice. The Merck Manual Professional Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic_and_biliary_disorders/approach_to_the_patient_with_liver_disease/jaundice.html. Accessed Jan. 27, 2015.
- Geographic tongue. American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. http://www.aaomp.org/public/geographic-tongue.php. Accessed Jan. 27, 2015.
- Bruce AJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 9, 2015.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 9, 2015.