Although the medical term 'Black Hairy Tongue' might sound scary and awful, it is actually a harmless, temporary oral condition wherein the tongue becomes dark and patchy and resembles like tiny hairs. This unusual characteristic appearance of the tongue usually happens due to accumulation of dead skin cells owing to bacterial, fungal or yeast invasion into the mouth cavities. Also Read: Tongue Colour: It Reveals Secrets About Your Health

The microbes usually act on the tiny rounded projections on the surface of the tongue (papillae) that contain taste buds. The papillae which normally shed dead skins, in case of infection, grow 15 times their normal length creating hair-like strands. When the microbe comes in contact with the papillae, they get trapped in these projections, staining them and making them look like small black hairs.

Black Hairy Tongue


Black Hairy Tongue is usually the result of a microbial invasion or infection due to debris which triggers the papillae on the tongue grow longer. A good oral hygiene, usually characterizes pinkish-white colour papillae. But as they grow, the debris from food, drinks, and possibly microbes like bacteria or yeast gets trapped in the papillae, dyeing the tongue. Although, in most cases, the color is black, hence the name, but the tongue can also turn brown, yellow, green, or a variety of other colors.

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Risk Factors

Certain health conditions and lifestyle habits can make a person more prone to black hairy tongue. These causative factors inlcude:

  • Taking antibiotics that might disrupt the normal bacterial balance in the mouth
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Regular use of mouthwashes containing irritating agents
  • Drinking excessive amounts of coffee or black tea
  • Excessive use of alcohol or tobacco
  • Insufficient secretion of saliva in the mouth
  • Eating a soft diet that doesn't scrub off dead skin cells from the tongue
  • Using antibiotics (which may disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the mouth)
  • Dehydration
  • Consuming medications that contain the chemical bismuth
  • Getting radiation therapy to the head and neck


Although a hairy tongue is mostly painless and rarely show any symptoms. Still, in some cases, some people show characteristic signs and symptoms which include:

  • Black discoloration of the tongue, although the color may be brown,yellow, tan, green, or white
  • Hairy or furry appearance of the tongue
  • Burning sensation of the tongue
  • Bad breath
  • Metallic taste or abnormal taste in the mouth
  • Tickling sensation
  • Gagging feeling

Diagnosis And Treatment

On noticing the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor to get tested or checked. Usually, by doing a thorough physical examination by checking the appearance of the tongue or acknowledging the lifestyle habits, the doctor is able to diagnose the condition. The doctor may also perform some diagnostics to rule out other health anomalies like:

  • Fungal or viral infections
  • Normal variations in tongue color
  • Black discolouration of the tongue from using products containing bismuth
  • Discolouration of the tongue from consuming different types of foods or medications
  • Oral lesions that occur on the tongue, causing oral hairy leukoplakia


Usually, black hairy tongue doesn't require any hard and fast treatment or medications to get rid of the hariy appearance. Practicing good oral hygiene and a simple tweak in lifestyle habits are enough to get adequate results. Also Read: 5 Easy And Effective Ways To Remove Dental Plaque

Home Remedies

Natural remedies to treat black hairy tongue include:

  • Brushing the teeth and scraping the tongue twice a day after meals.
  • Flossing teeth at least once a day
  • Limiting use of alcohol and tobacco
  • Avoiding use of mouthwashes
  • Visiting a dentist for check-ups on a monthly basis
  • Drinking adequate quantity of water
  • Following a well-balanced diet