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Black, hairy tongue


Disease: Black, hairy tongue Black, hairy tongue
Category: Mouth and teeth diseases
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Disease Definition:

Black, hairy tongue is a short-lasting, benign oral illness that gives a person's tongue a dark, furry aspect. This look of black and hairy tongue is usually attributed to overgrowth of mouth bacteria.
Though the look might be appalling, it doesn’t cause health problems. Without medical treatment, this condition usually resolves by itself.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Black, hairy tongue may cause some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Black, yellow or brown discoloration of the tongue
  • A hairy or furry appearance of the tongue
  • Altered taste or metallic taste in the mouth
  • In some people, a gagging sensation.

Though unattractive, black, hairy tongue is usually a temporary, harmless condition. However, if someone is worried about the appearance of their tongue, or if their symptoms linger for more than ten days, they should see a doctor.


When projections on the tongue called papillae elongate and don’t shed like normal, black, hairy tongue results. This is what makes the tongue look hairy. Bacteria, debris or other organisms can gather on the papillae and the outcome is black, yellow, or brown discoloration.

Black, hairy tongue causes can't always be identified. However, some of the likely causes are:

  • Heavy tobacco use
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Medications containing bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol
  • Changes in the normal bacteria or yeast substance of the mouth after using antibiotics
  • Regular use of mouthwashes that contain oxidizing elements, such as peroxide, or astringent agents, such as witch hazel or menthol.





Being a temporary condition, black, hairy tongue does not necessitate treatment.

Keeping good oral hygiene and getting rid of possible factors that could lead to black hairy tongue, such as smoking or medications that contain bismuth, help resolve the problem.
A person should consult a doctor or dentist to be prescribed a medication or to discontinue a prescribed medication.


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