What Are the Common Causes of Brown Saliva?

Emily Daw
Emily Daw
Chewing tobacco, which can cause brown saliva.
Chewing tobacco, which can cause brown saliva.

Brown saliva can be a sign of a number of conditions, ranging from harmless to severe. Probably the most common cause of brown saliva is the presence of nicotine. Other possible causes, however, include acid reflux or small amounts of blood in the saliva or mucus.

Brown saliva can also result from dehydration, making your saliva thicker and darker in color.

As scary as it might sound, brown saliva is usually harmless and not a cause for alarm. 

Medical conditions can cause brown saliva, but these are rare. If you're concerned about brown saliva or if other symptoms accompany it, see your general practitioner to rule out any underlying health issues.

What Are the Causes of Brown Saliva?

Common causes of brown saliva include:

Foods and Drinks

Blood present in the saliva may give saliva a brownish color.
Blood present in the saliva may give saliva a brownish color.

Coffee, tea, chocolate, and red wine can all cause your saliva to turn brown. They contain dark-colored pigments that can stain your saliva. These foods and drinks are perfectly safe to consume and won't cause any long-term damage to your oral health.

Smoking Tobacco

People who use tobacco products, either by smoking or using some form of smokeless tobacco, often have brown saliva. This is because the smoke from these products contains tar and other chemicals that can discolor your saliva.

Acid reflux in which stomach acids reach back into the esophagus can be the cause of brown saliva.
Acid reflux in which stomach acids reach back into the esophagus can be the cause of brown saliva.

Nicotine from chewing tobacco or snuff dissolves in the mouth, and that which is not absorbed into the blood stream is usually spit out. Smokers may find that their saliva remains brown for a significant amount of time, even if they quit smoking, as their lungs rid themselves of cancer-causing nicotine. Inhaling second-hand smoke may have a similar effect.

Dehydration

If you're not drinking enough fluids, your saliva can become thick and dark in color. Dehydration causes your body to produce less saliva. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help keep your saliva thin and transparent.

Acid Reflux

Even after someone quits smoking, their saliva may remain brown for quite some time.
Even after someone quits smoking, their saliva may remain brown for quite some time.

Acid reflux, in which digestive juices from the stomach regurgitate into the esophagus, can also cause brown saliva, especially in the morning. In some cases, stomach acid even regurgitates into the mouth, giving the saliva a brown or yellow color. This is more likely to happen at night or when the patient is lying down, because gravity is not assisting in keeping the acid down.

Acid reflux is treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

Presence of Blood

Inhaling second-hand smoke may cause the saliva to turn brown.
Inhaling second-hand smoke may cause the saliva to turn brown.

Blood may also give saliva a brownish color and may be present in saliva for any number of reasons. Sores in the mouth may bleed and turn the saliva either red or brown. Cold, dry weather or sinus infections may lead to bleeding in the nasal cavities. Flecks of blood can mix with mucus and drain down the throat and into the mouth, resulting in brown saliva.

It's common for smokers to have brown saliva.
It's common for smokers to have brown saliva.

While blood in the mucus or saliva may be harmless, it may also be a sign of more serious health problems. Coughing up blood is often a sign of tuberculosis (TB) or another severe infection. Anyone who is uncertain about the cause of his or her brown saliva should consult a doctor to rule out potentially dangerous diseases.

What Medical Conditions Cause Brown Saliva?

Some medical conditions can cause brown saliva. These include:

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD is a term that includes several lung-related health problems: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma

Brown saliva may mean that your condition has gotten worse. The saliva will get stickier over time, and its quantity will increase.  

Chronic Lung Disease

Chronic lung disease is a condition that damages the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. It causes brown saliva due to the buildup of mucus in the lungs. 

It can happen in patients diagnosed with cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis. The phlegm is brown because there is blood and inflammation in the lungs.

Porphyria

Porphyria is a rare disorder that interferes with the body's ability to produce heme, a substance that gives blood its red color. People with porphyria may have brown or purple urine and saliva.

Liver Disease or Jaundice

Brushing and flossing regularly may help reduce discoloration caused by tobacco products.
Brushing and flossing regularly may help reduce discoloration caused by tobacco products.

In rare cases, brown saliva can signify a medical condition, such as liver disease or jaundice. Liver disease can cause the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow and brown urine and stool. Liver disease treatment usually includes lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.

Periodontitis

Periodontitis is a gum disease that occurs when the gums become inflamed and pull away from the teeth. It can cause brown saliva, as well as other symptoms like bad breath and bleeding gums. Periodontitis treatment consists of professional cleanings and, in some cases, surgery.

If you notice that your gums recede from your teeth or that your gums bleed regularly and are swollen, see a dentist right away.

Cancer

Cancer can also cause brown saliva. Cancerous tumors can bleed, which can cause the saliva to turn brown. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are experiencing brown saliva, see your doctor for an evaluation.

Will the Phlegm Subside on Its Own?

The duration of brown phlegm will depend on what caused it, whether a bacterial or viral infection or an inflammatory condition. It is essential to understand that phlegm is the body-positive response to infection or inflammation. 

The body is working to protect itself by producing extra mucus. However, if it doesn't subside or symptoms worsen, it's time to see a doctor.

When To See a Doctor

Most of the time, brown saliva is nothing to worry about. However, if you're concerned about the color of your saliva or if other more severe symptoms accompany it, be sure to see your doctor for an evaluation. 

These symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin or eyes

Wrapping Up

Sinus infections may lead to bleeding in the nasal cavities, which may manifest as brown saliva.
Sinus infections may lead to bleeding in the nasal cavities, which may manifest as brown saliva.

Brown saliva is usually nothing to worry about and can onset as a result of dehydration or smoking tobacco. However, it just may be a sign of a more severe condition. The best thing to do is see your practitioner to rule out any underlying illness, especially if other symptoms accompany the saliva.

Discussion Comments

anon991088

Just this morning I had brown, thick saliva in my mouth and tongue is leaving a bad taste and there was blood on my pillow. Anybody got any ideas?

pleonasm
@KoiwiGal - That might help, but it won't completely prevent coffee and tea stains over time. You have to go to a dentist for that. Although it's mostly a cosmetic thing, rather than a problem with the health of the teeth.

The one time I was really worried about having brown saliva it wasn't because I was eating or drinking wrong. I was living in a city with very high air pollution and I noticed that my saliva was starting to be discolored. I always wondered if it would have eventually affected my teeth, but I was so concerned about the effect on my lungs that I didn't stay long enough to find out.

It's kind of scary what millions of people are willing to put up with in order to live in a city.

KoiwiGal

Sometimes the simple explanation is the best one. If you've been eating brown food or drinking brown liquids (like chocolate or coffee) it will probably stain your saliva brown.

That's one reason it's a good idea to brush your tongue with your toothbrush as part of your nightly routine. This helps to remove more bacteria from your mouth, but it can also make sure that any food residue is removed from your tongue as well. Even though coffee isn't likely to cause any bacterial growth, it can still stain your teeth, so I think brushing it away is probably a good idea.

clintflint

Acid reflux might be common, but you still might want to look into why it's happening. Often it has something to do with eating habits and might be related to the type or amount of food someone is eating.

It can do some damage over time and can be very uncomfortable as well, so if you can figure out how to stop it, that's probably a good idea.

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    • Chewing tobacco, which can cause brown saliva.
      By: robhainer
      Chewing tobacco, which can cause brown saliva.
    • Blood present in the saliva may give saliva a brownish color.
      By: Adrian Costea
      Blood present in the saliva may give saliva a brownish color.
    • Acid reflux in which stomach acids reach back into the esophagus can be the cause of brown saliva.
      By: bilderzwerg
      Acid reflux in which stomach acids reach back into the esophagus can be the cause of brown saliva.
    • Even after someone quits smoking, their saliva may remain brown for quite some time.
      By: Gajus
      Even after someone quits smoking, their saliva may remain brown for quite some time.
    • Inhaling second-hand smoke may cause the saliva to turn brown.
      By: illustrez-vous
      Inhaling second-hand smoke may cause the saliva to turn brown.
    • It's common for smokers to have brown saliva.
      By: Rui Vale de Sousa
      It's common for smokers to have brown saliva.
    • Brushing and flossing regularly may help reduce discoloration caused by tobacco products.
      By: GVictoria
      Brushing and flossing regularly may help reduce discoloration caused by tobacco products.
    • Sinus infections may lead to bleeding in the nasal cavities, which may manifest as brown saliva.
      By: Simone van den Berg
      Sinus infections may lead to bleeding in the nasal cavities, which may manifest as brown saliva.