This condition gives the tongue a dark, furry look. It results from a buildup of dead skin cells on the many tiny, rounded bumps on the tongue's surface.
Black hairy tongue is a condition of the tongue that gives it a dark, furry look. The look usually results from a buildup of dead skin cells on the many tiny, rounded bumps on the surface of the tongue. These bumps, called papillae, contain taste buds. When these bumps become longer than usual, they can easily trap and be stained by tobacco, food, drinks, bacteria or yeast, or other substances.
Black hairy tongue may look alarming, but it's usually painless and doesn't cause any health problems. The condition usually goes away by dealing with the causes and by regular mouth and tongue cleaning.
Black hairy tongue is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on the tiny bumps on the tongue called papillae. Food, drinks, tobacco, bacteria or yeast, and other substances can get trapped on the papillae and stain them.
Symptoms of black hairy tongue include:
Though it doesn't look good, black hairy tongue is usually a harmless condition. It's usually short term when steps are taken to get rid of or manage the cause.
See your healthcare professional or dentist if:
Black hairy tongue usually happens when the many tiny, rounded bumps on the tongue, called papillae, grow too long because they don't shed dead skin cells. Food, drinks, tobacco, bacteria or yeast, and other substances can get trapped on the papillae and stain them. This makes the tongue look dark and hairy.
The cause of black hairy tongue can't always be found. Possible causes of black hairy tongue include:
Poor mouth and tongue cleaning, dry mouth, and eating only soft foods may raise your risk of black hairy tongue.
If you're male or an older adult, if you smoke, or if you've had hairy black tongue in the past, you may have a higher risk of the condition.
Diagnosis of black hairy tongue is based on how your tongue looks and possible causes or risk factors. Making a diagnosis also includes checking for other conditions that may cause a similar look to the tongue, such as:
Black hairy tongue usually doesn't need medical treatment. Though it may not look good, it's usually a short-term, harmless condition.
Good mouth and tongue cleaning can help get rid of black hairy tongue. So can stopping things that may lead to the condition, for example, not using tobacco or irritating mouthwashes. Don't stop any prescription medicine without talking to your healthcare professional first.
If you smoke, talk with your healthcare team about options for quitting, including smoking cessation programs. These use proven techniques to help people quit.
To keep your mouth and tongue healthy:
Here's information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your healthcare professional or dentist.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Some questions to ask include:
Feel free to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your healthcare professional or dentist may ask you questions, such as:
Be ready to answer questions so that you have time to talk about what's most important to you.