What is Black Hairy Tongue?

Black hairy tongue is a disorder of the tongue, which is quite harmless and is a temporary oral condition. As the name itself suggests, the tongue takes on a furry/hairy black colored appearance. This distinctive look occurs as a result of accumulation of dead cells on the papillae. These papillae have multiple tiny projections on the tongue's surface and they help with tasting of the food as they contain taste buds. There is accumulation of dead skin cells on the tongue which increases the length of the papillae. The longer papillae tend to trap the food we eat, or yeast, bacteria or get stained by food colorings, tobacco etc. This results in a black hairy appearance of the tongue. This kind of a black furry look on the tongue can be alarming to look at, however, it is quite harmless, painless and doesn't cause any health problems and most of the times resolves without resorting to any medical treatment.

Black Hairy Tongue

Causes of Black Hairy Tongue

Accumulation of dead cells causes the papillae of the tongue to increase in length. This in turn leads to trapping of food in them. Additionally the tongue can stain from using tobacco products and other food substances. Certain medications also can result in staining of the tongue. All these things contribute to a black hairy tongue.

Signs & Symptoms of Black Hairy Tongue

  • There is blackish discoloration seen on the surface of the tongue.
  • There is furry/ hairy appearance seen on the tongue.
  • The discoloration can also be of other colors, such as tan, brown, yellow, green, or white.
  • Patient may find his/her taste altered, such as they can find a metallic taste in their mouth.
  • Patient experiences halitosis (bad breath).
  • If there is excessive growth of the papillae, then patient may also feel a tickling or gagging sensation.
  • You need to see your doctor if the black hairy appearance of the tongue persists even after brushing your tongue and teeth twice a day.

Signs & Symptoms of Black Hairy Tongue

Investigations for Black Hairy Tongue

The doctor will look for the following signs and will ask the patient certain questions such as:

  • How is the patient's oral hygiene?
  • Is the patient taking certain medications or foods which will stain the tongue?
  • The doctor/dentist will check for any changes in the pigment of the tongue.
  • The doctor/dentist will look for any signs of inflammation in the lining of the mouth.
  • The doctor/dentist will check whether if the patient has any viral or fungal infection.

Treatment for Black Hairy Tongue

  • Black hairy tongue can be quite unsightly and even alarming to look at; but it is quite harmless and a temporary condition and doesn't need any medical treatment per se; and most of the times will resolve on its own.
  • Implementing good oral hygiene is the mainstay of treatment for black hairy tongue.
  • Another important thing in resolving black hairy tongue is eliminating the factors, which cause this condition, such as avoiding use of tobacco or use of certain medications, which contain bismuth; all these things can contribute to a black hairy tongue. If the cause of black hairy tongue is use of any specific medications, then the patient should consult the doctor before stopping that prescribed medication.

Home Remedies for Black Hairy Tongue

  • We all brush our teeth once or twice a day; however, it is also important to gently brush our tongue to remove the accumulated debris and dead cells. Make sure to use a flexible tongue scraper and a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Floss your teeth once a day. It helps in removing plaque and food particles from between the teeth.
  • Brush your teeth after drinking or eating anything and make sure to use fluoride toothpaste. If you are not able to brush your teeth after eating, then try to rinse your mouth with plain or salted water.
  • Get regular dental checkups and professional dental cleanings. This will help in keeping dental problems at bay and in detecting them early.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: July 5, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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