The mouth is the entrance to both the digestive and the respiratory systems. The inside of the mouth is lined with mucous membranes. When healthy, the lining of the mouth ranges in color from reddish pink to gradations of brown or black. The lining of the mouth tends to be darker in dark-skinned individuals because of their melanin producing cells. A healthy mouth also produces a pleasant or neutral smell.
There are several structures in the mouth. The prominent ones are the teeth, the gums, and the tongue. Opposite the tongue and located at the roof of the mouth is the palate. The palate isdivided into the front part which has ridges and is hard (hard palate), and the back part which is relatively smooth and soft (soft palate).
Just like the rest of the mouth, the roof or the palate is usually reddish pink, but this can change color in certain conditions. One color that is not commonly seen in the mouth is yellow. Yellow lesions rarely appear within the mouth, and when they occur, it can be worrisome. Luckily, most of the causes pf yellow roof of mouth are not life threatening, even though some should certainly be checked out by the doctor.
What causes yellow roof of mouth?
- Food. Many foods contain dyes or colorants that can stain the mouth yellow, or are sticky and remain stuck to the tongue and the roof of mouth, discoloring its surface
- Mouth washes. Some oral hygiene products with oxidizing components can cause a dry tongue which can also extend to the roof of the mouth. These products include those containing peroxides, witch hazel, chlorhexidine, menthol, alcohol, thymol, and eucalyptus.
- Some medications like iron salts, minocycline, bismuth subsalicylate may also stain the inner surfaces of the mouth, including the tongue and roof, yellow. These may also include anti-cancer medications.
- Poor oral hygiene. Poor oral hygiene can lead to a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. When these bacteria multiply, it can change the color of the inside of the mouth and may cause the color of not just the roof of the mouth, but the tongue to change to yellow as well. Bacterial build up can also occur in when the inner lining of the mouth is dry like is seen in mouth breathing or conditions where enough saliva is not produced.
- Fatty tissue in the mouth. This is a common source of yellow lesions in the mouth. A layer of fat just beneath the lining of the mouth, or fat cells that have migrated into the salivary glands, will appear as various shades of yellow. These types of lesions do not typically pose a threat to health and do not usually require any treatment.
- Mouth infections. Mouth infections like oral thrush caused by fungi can also lead to this condition. The overgrowth of fungi or yeast can cause deposition of whitish yellowish patches in the mouth, including the roof. Other mouth sores like canker sores, and oral herpes sores can also cause sores which may appear yellowish in the mouth, including the roof.
- Pus. An abscess or a pocket of fluid or pus that is located just below the surface of the lining of the roof of mouth can also cause it to appear yellow.
- Tobacco. This is a risk factor for poor oral hygiene, among other conditions. Smoking is a potential cause of black hairy tongue, which cause the roof of the mouth to appear yellow. It is also a risk factor for oral thrush, which on its own can cause a yellow roof of mouth.
- Kola nut. Kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree which is more commonly found in West Africa. It contains caffeine and it is commonly chewed in Africa. Individuals who chew this often have yellowish discoloration of the roof of the mouth, the gums, and the tongue.
- Some conditions like Verruciform xanthoma which is characterized by a cauliflower-like growth can also cause the roof of the mouth to be yellow. The exact cause of this condition is not clearly understood but it is known not to be cancer and to be typically painless and asymptomatic.
- Jaundice and hypercarotenemia. These two conditions can discolor the mouth, including the roof of the mouth, and inner lining of the mouth. These would also make them appear yellow.
What to do if the roof of the mouth appears yellow
In cases of yellow roof of mouth, the first thing to do would be to improve oral hygiene by brushing the teeth and the tongue at least twice a day. This also includes flossing and rinsing out the mouth after each meal.
Review foods eaten, medications, and oral care products to be sure they do not contain oxidizing products that increases the likelihood of a yellow roof of tongue.
If it is not going away after improvement of oral hygiene, or is associated with other symptoms like reddish blots on the mouth, painful mouth sores, painful swallowing, bleeding gums, foul smelling breath, loss of appetite, and weight loss, it is usually a good idea to see the doctor or dentist to check it out and treat any underlying cause that is identified.