Why Is My Tongue Green? Green Tongue Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis

What causes a green tongue or why is my tongue green? Green colored tongue (pale, dark, green-yellow, green-white, etc.) is a common problem that affects people of all ages including elderly, adults and children (baby, infant or toddler). Discover more on the green-colored tongue (coating or film) including causes, diagnosis and the symptoms you expect to have.

A normal tongue is supposed to be pink (or reddish-pink) in color with some light white coatings. However, different diseases, conditions, disorders or habits can make someone’s tongue to be yellow, orange, blue, white, black, purple, etc. What if you have a greenish color on your tongue or what does a green tongue mean?

A green tongue, as the name suggests, refers to a green looking tongue or a green coating (stuff, film, slime or gunk) on the surface the tongue. The coating could be on the whole tongue, or on part of the tongue, especially on the back of your tongue i.e. green tongue at the back.

Other than being just coated purely green, your tongue might also be pale green, yellow-green, dark green, blue-green, white green, among other colors depending on the underlying causes.

Children (baby or infants), teens as well as adults can suffer from this problem, with oral thrush being the most common cause of white, yellow or greenish tongue coating on toddlers or infants. Furthermore, some people have this problem throughout or always unless the underlying cause has been dealt with or treated, while others tend to commonly have a green tongue morning when they wake up (temporary).

Green tongue symptoms and signs

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Besides the green appearance on the tongue, you might have a number of other signs and symptoms which are depended on the underlying cause. The common symptoms of a green-coated tongue include halitosis or bad breath, discomfort (including pain and soreness which will increase when you eat spicy or hot foods), a few patients might have a metallic taste in their mouth, gastro-intestinal discomforts (nausea, vomiting), sore throat, swollen tongue, among others.

The specific symptoms that you have are very important in diagnosis since they can help you know what could be behind the coating or film which can be very thick at times.

Why is my tongue green? Green tongue causes

There are many possible causes of a greenish looking tongue which range from diseases and conditions, some habits as well as other underlying medical conditions.  These could be local or systemic problems. Some of the common reasons why your tongue is green include:

Oral candidiasis or green thrush on tongue

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Oral candidiasis or oral thrush is a throat and mouth fungal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of opportunistic fungi, candida Albicans (i.e. white, yellow or green fungus on tongue).  It is often characterized by white patches in the mouth, inner cheeks, throat, palate, and tongue, as well as soreness and mouth pain. However, after eating some foods as well as taking some antibiotics, you might end up with a greenish coated tongue i.e. yellow-green, dark green, pale, or whitish-green coating, stuff or film.

Anyone can suffer from oral thrush with its prevalence high in “babies and toddlers, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems” [webmd.com] especially those whose immunity has been weakened by HIV infection, cancer or uncontrolled diabetes. Other causes include dry mouth, hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, smoking, some medications (especially birth control pills, antibiotics or corticosteroids), etc.

To be certain it is oral thrush, ensure you get a correct diagnosis from a doctor. To treat it, antifungal medications (liquids, lozenges or tablets) are often recommended.  Note that oral candidiasis should not be confused with the genital candidiasis which is an STD.

Green furry tongue, hairy or tongue with fur

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Hairy tongue syndrome is the second most common cause of a bumpy, rough green colored tongue especially it is furry (green and furry tongue), fluffy, fuzzy or has a hairy feeling. Your tongue will tend to be white, brown, green (green-white, light green, pale green or yellow-green) or other colors depending on foods (especially if you are fond of lollipops and candies) or mouthwashes you use. Therefore, it is possible to have a greenish tongue with bumps or green spots on the tongue when you have a hairy tongue.

According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, hairy tongue refers to “abnormal coating on the top (dorsal) surface of the tongue” [aaom.com]. It often occurs when keratin proteins build up on your tongue because there is no tongue surface abrasion or stimulation. In some cases, the papillae may be very long forming hair-like projections.

Food, bacteria, yeast accumulation as well as papillae which do not shed well can give rise to hairy tongue.

Hairy tongue is commonly caused by poor oral hygiene, dehydration, head and neck radiation therapies, excessive use of antibiotics, coffee, tea, too much tobacco and marijuana smoking, among many other causes.

Other cause of green tongue

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Besides the above, other probable reasons why you have a greenish tongue include the following:

  • Green or yellow tongue after piercing or trauma – Tongue trauma and tongue piercing can often result to white or green mucus on the tongue in case of infection i.e. a greenish-yellow discharge. In such a case, a bacterial infection on the affected area is likely.
  • Green tongue marijuana – Smoking weed and tobacco is another possible cause the green color on your tongue i.e. excess smoking of marijuana, tobacco as well as tobacco chewing is known to result to a green-coated tongue.
  • Green tongue infection – Besides oral thrush and hairy tongue, various infections including the green tongue yeast infection can make your tongue green.
  • Mouth ulcers – Ulcers, sores and blisters on your tongue can make your tongue appear green especially after taking some types of foods as well as medications.
  • Throat irritation – Throat irritation as well as upper respiratory tract infections can lead to not only a green-coated tongue but also some green spots on the tongue (or bumps) especially at the back of your tongue.
  • Prolonged use of antibiotics
  • Green colored foods, candy and lollipops (i.e. lollipops with green color dyes) can cause a temporary green colored tongue. For instance, if you have a green tongue and green poop, it might be the food you ate.
  • Some mouthwashes and toothpaste have ingredients that can make your tongue to look green in color.

Baby green tongue

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If your baby has a greenish colored tongue, you need to check for oral thrush, black hairy tongue or upper respiratory tract infection if the back of the tongue is affected. However, the most probable cause is oral thrush since it is very common in infants, babies or toddlers. Normally, white patches are what is expected; however, you might end up with green color especially with medicine and food consumption.

Green tongue sore throat

If you have a green tongue and a sore throat, you upper respiratory tract might be infected. The most common cause of upper respiratory tract infection is strep throat. Other possible infections include common cold, sinus infection, and rhinitis, among others.

When you have a strep throat, you will tend to have whitish or green pus especially on the surface of your tonsils. Sometimes, you might have a green tongue with bumps and sore throat i.e. “little dark-red, almost purple, spots on the back of the roof of the mouth and on the uvula” [drreddy.com].

Green tongue diagnosis

If your tongue is green (i.e. greenish in color, greenish-white, greenish-yellow, etc. as already seen), there could be many reasons behind the green color. Correct diagnosis is paramount if you have to successfully treat the underlying cause, especially if that cause is a serious one.

In most instances, a green-colored tongue might not indicate a serious or life-threatening health problem. However, it is advisable to see a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment in case the problem does not disappear on its own after a couple of days.

How to treat green coated tongue

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The best way to treat a greenish looking tongue is to treat the underlying cause. This requires diagnosis before treatment. However, some of the general ways to deal with this problem include:

  • Keeping good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth and tongue at least twice a day
  • Trying home remedies such as using turmeric past and honey since they have excellent antibacterial properties. They can also help in oral thrush control
  • Eat a balanced diet, avoid soft foods only and ensure you have enough vitamin C for stronger immunity.
  • Try a tongue scraper

Green colored tongue is not an issue on its own but it could be an indication of a different health problem. If it is temporary, lasts less than a week, you do not need to be worried about it.