The most flexible muscle of the human body, the tongue is a sense organ that helps us to perceive the taste and texture of the food we eat. It also plays an important role in the articulation of speech. Covered with a pink-colored mucous membrane called mucosa, the tongue has a slightly rough texture due to the presence of small protuberances called papillae on its surface. These protuberances are classified into fungiform, filiform, foliate, and circumvallate papillae. We are able to perceive taste due to the specialized taste receptor cells that lie on the taste buds, which in turn, lie on the surface of papillae.
Though the growth of pathogens is restricted by the constant flow of saliva, people who don't pay attention to oral hygiene, are more likely to experience tongue-related problems. Under normal circumstances, the color of the tongue should be pink. The presence of white, yellow, or black spots on the tongue could indicate infections or other medical conditions.
More often than not, the change in the color of the tongue is due to poor oral hygiene. Here are some of the reasons behind the yellow coating of the tongue.
Poor Oral Hygiene
People who religiously follow a proper oral hygiene regimen are less likely to observe yellowish coating on the tongue. While brushing and flossing the teeth keeps the teeth healthy, using a tongue cleaner helps in preventing bacterial buildup on the tongue. Bacterial buildup usually occurs when food debris is lodged between the teeth. Using a tongue cleaner will surely prove beneficial in preventing bacterial buildup, but one must not scrape the tongue too hard.
The mucosa or the pink tissue that covers the tongue could get irritated due to the consumption of hot beverages, or food items that have a rough texture. Excessive intake of caffeinated drinks and inadequate intake of water could lead to dry mouth. The constant flow of saliva helps to inhibit bacterial growth. Dry mouth increases the possibility of bacterial buildup, which in turn, is likely to cause changes in the color of the tongue. Excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, prolonged use of certain drugs, etc., could also cause dryness of mouth, thereby altering the color and texture of the tongue.
Black Hairy Tongue
In some cases, yellow coating could be an early sign of black, hairy tongue. People affected by this condition have a dark, furry tongue. The reason behind the change in the color and texture is bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. The texture of the tongue changes, as the papillae grow into hair-like projections. The color of the tongue changes due to buildup of bacteria or fungi on the papillae. The color of the tongue could also change from pink to yellow, brown, green, etc., due to the pigments from food or drinks. Dry mouth, mouth breathing, use of drugs that contain bismuth, smoking, poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, and the use of mouthwashes that contain oxidizing agents, are some of the contributing factors.
The development of white patches or spots on the tongue should not be ignored, as these could also be indicative of certain conditions.
- White, lace-like patches could appear on the tongue due to a condition called oral lichen planus. Irritation due to consumption of certain food items, or the use of poorly-fitted dentures may worsen the symptoms.
- Oral thrush is another condition that is characterized by the development of white deposits on the mucous membrane of the mouth. Also called oral candidiasis, this is a fungal infection that is caused by Candida albicans. People who have been taking antibiotics or drugs for a long time may be susceptible, as prolonged use of drugs disturbs the microbial balance. The use of antifungal drugs is often prescribed for treating this condition.
- White/grayish patches on the tongue could be indicative of leukoplakia. Long-term tobacco use is believed to be one of the common contributing factors. Oral hairy leukoplakia, which is another form of leukoplakia, is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
On a concluding note, poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, prolonged use of certain drugs, poor diet, and dehydration, could be responsible for the development of a yellow coating on the tongue. Thus, following a proper oral hygiene, and making the necessary lifestyle modifications will surely help in lowering the incidence of this tongue problem.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.