Black hairy tongue is a temporary, harmless oral condition that gives the tongue a dark, furry appearance. The distinct look usually results from a buildup of dead skin cells on the many tiny projections (papillae) on the surface of the tongue that contain taste buds. These papillae, which are longer than normal, can easily trap and be stained by bacteria, yeast, tobacco, food or other substances.
Although black hairy tongue may look alarming, typically it doesn't cause any health problems, and it's usually painless. Black hairy tongue usually resolves by eliminating possible causes or contributing factors and practicing good oral hygiene.
Black hairy tongue is caused by an overgrowth of dead skin cells, causing lengthening of the papillae, and staining from bacteria, yeast, food, tobacco or other substances in the mouth.
Signs and symptoms of black hairy tongue include:
Though unattractive, black hairy tongue is usually a temporary, harmless condition.
See your doctor if:
Black hairy tongue typically results when projections on the tongue called papillae grow longer because they don't shed dead skin cells like normal. This makes the tongue look hairy. Debris, bacteria or other organisms can collect on the papillae and result in discoloration.
Although the cause of black hairy tongue can't always be determined, possible causes or contributing factors include:
Diagnosis of black hairy tongue is based on appearance and possible causes or contributing factors. It also includes eliminating other conditions that may cause a similar appearance to the tongue, such as:
Black hairy tongue typically doesn't require medical treatment. Though unattractive, it's a temporary, harmless condition.
Practicing good oral hygiene and eliminating factors that may contribute to the condition — such as avoiding tobacco use or irritating mouthwashes — help resolve black hairy tongue. Be sure to talk to your doctor or dentist before stopping a prescribed medication.
To practice good oral health and to remove the tongue discoloration:
Here's information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor or dentist.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Some basic questions to ask your doctor or dentist may include:
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor or dentist may ask you questions about your symptoms and oral care practices, including: