Is this cause for concern?

The human tongue is naturally pink in color. If your tongue turns orange, it could simply reflect what you’ve eaten recently. Brightly hued foods — like a popsicle or hard candy — can turn your tongue various colors.

In some cases, an orange tongue could signal a change in your health. Conditions like acid reflux, thrush, and some vitamin deficiencies can all cause color changes.

Here are a few possible causes of an orange tongue and how to treat them.

Cells on the surface of your tongue normally grow and then shed. When these cells don’t slough off as usual, they can build up on your tongue. Food gets trapped in these cells, creating a white or colored coating.

You’re more likely to develop a coated tongue if you:

  • drink coffee or tea
  • smoke
  • have dry mouth

Poor oral hygiene can contribute to the stain. Not brushing your teeth and tongue also leads to tooth decay and bad breath.

What you can do

Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You can also use a fluoride rinse to keep your whole mouth clean. Check out our tips for preventing oral health problems.

Bacteria and yeast can sometimes get trapped on the surface of your tongue — especially when these germs reproduce too quickly in your mouth. The bacteria and yeast either release substances that stain your tongue a yellowish or orange color, or they can themselves appear orange.

What you can do

If the color doesn’t go away with good brushing and rinsing, see your doctor. You might need to take an antibiotic or antifungal medication to clear up the infection.

Thrush is a condition that’s caused by a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans on the inside of your mouth. It usually shows up as a white, cheesy-looking collection of sores on your tongue and along the inside of your cheeks. But if the sores bleed, they could give your tongue an orange tinge.

What you can do

Your doctor can prescribe antifungal medications to kill the Candida fungus. These medicines come in liquid, tablet, or lozenge form.

While you’re getting treated for thrush, clean your mouth well. Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day. Rinse your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon salt and warm water to help clear out bacteria.

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), or reflux, occurs when stomach acids back up into your esophagus. It happens when a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes and allows acids to escape from your stomach.

Common symptoms of reflux include:

  • heartburn
  • trouble swallowing or pain when you swallow
  • a sour taste in your mouth
  • burping
  • bad breath
  • nausea or vomiting

Although changes in tongue color aren’t common, they’re possible. You may notice a white or orange coating.

What you can do

You can first try home remedies like these to relieve acid reflux:

  • Avoid big, heavy meals before bed.
  • Don’t eat spicy, citrusy, greasy, and acidic foods.
  • Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches by putting blocks under the back bedposts.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.

If these approaches don’t work, your doctor might recommend that you take one or more of these medications, which reduce or block acid production:

  • antacids, such as simethicone with aluminum and magnesium (Maalox) and calcium carbonate with magnesium hydroxide (Rolaids)
  • H2 blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB) and famotidine (Pepcid)
  • proton pump inhibitors, such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and lansoprazole (Prevacid)

Taking antibiotics to treat an infection can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria, fungi, and other germs in your mouth. This may cause your tongue to take on an unusual coat temporarily.

What you can do

The orange color should go away once you finish the dose of antibiotics. In the meantime, taking probiotics can help restore the bacterial balance in your system.

Too little of certain nutrients in your diet can change the color of your tongue. An iron, folate, or vitamin B-12 deficiency can make your tongue turn reddish and feel sore.

What you can do

Beef up your diet with foods that contain these nutrients, including:

  • shellfish and fish
  • beef
  • beef liver
  • poultry
  • spinach
  • enriched breakfast cereals
  • beans
  • tofu

If food alone doesn’t make up for your nutritional shortfall, ask your doctor if you need to take a supplement.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that exposure to allergens like pollen, mold, or food can spur a temporary change in tongue color.

Allergies also cause:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • itchy, runny eyes
  • skin rash or hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • nausea and diarrhea
  • trouble breathing or wheezing

What you can do

Try to avoid your allergy trigger, especially if you also have more serious reactions like swelling of the mouth or hives. Allergy medications or shots can help prevent symptoms when you’re exposed.

Mold is an organism that grows in damp environments like shower curtains and basement ceilings.

In people who are sensitive to mold, exposure can cause symptoms such as:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • nasal congestion
  • scratchy throat
  • eye irritation

Mold exposure can also coat the tongue an unusual color.

What you can do

Avoid exposure by cleaning up mold in your home and preventing new growth.

You should also:

  • Lower the humidity in your home to between 30 and 50 percent.
  • Keep damp areas — like the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room — well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  • Use soap and water or mold-killing products to clean mold off of surfaces.
  • Fix any leaks in your home to prevent moisture from getting inside.

Most causes of an orange tongue are temporary. This symptom should clear up within a few days.

If your tongue stays orange for more than a week or two, see your doctor for diagnosis.

You should also see your doctor if you’re experiencing:

  • a rash
  • shortness of breath
  • bleeding sores
  • chest pain