Black, Hairy Tongue: Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Black, hairy tongue refers to a harmless and temporary oral condition that may

First Aid Classroom
First Aid Classroom

make your tongue appear dark and fury. This condition does not cause any pain and occurs as a result of overgrowth of bacteria inside a person’s mouth.

A black, hairy tongue may look disturbing; however, it does not result in any future health problems. People with black, hairy tongue usually recover without treatment.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of black, hair tongue may include the following:

  • Black, brown or yellow discoloration of the tongue
  • A furry or hairy appearance of the tongue
  • Bad breath – halitosis
  • Unusual taste or a kind of metallic taste in the mouth
  • Gagging sensation

When to seek medical attention

Black, hairy tongue may not be a pleasant sight; however, it is a completely harmless condition that disappears with time. See a health care provider if any of the following problems occur due to the condition:

  • You are concerned or disturbed by the appearance of your tongue
  • Symptoms and signs remain persistent for more than 10 days


Your tongue has projections called papillae that shed off, normally. However, this bacterial infection that results in black, hairy tongue may cause these papillae to elongate and not shed. This makes the tongue look furry or hairy. The black color occurs due to bacteria and other organisms and debris being deposited on the papillae. The tongue may appear black, brown or yellow.

The exact cause of black, hairy tongue in certain people cannot be always determined. However, some possible causes may include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Changes in the yeast or bacteria that are normally present in the mouth due to antibiotic use
  • Frequent mouth breathing
  • Medication containing bismuth (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Frequent usage of mouthwash that contain oxidizing agents such as peroxides or astringent agents such as menthol or hazel
  • Heavy use of tobacco


Black, hairy tongue usually does not require any medical treatment. Even though it seems to be unattractive or alarming, it is a completely harmless and painless condition that will go away on its own.

Treatment primarily involves practicing good oral hygiene in order to eliminate factors that trigger this condition. Contributing factors may include tobacco use or usage of medication containing bismuth. Make sure you consult your doctor before discontinuing any medication that may have caused black, hairy tongue.

Home care treatment mainly involves practising good oral health in order to remove the discolouration of the tongue:

  • Always brush your tongue when you brush your teeth. Gently brushing the tongue when you brush your teeth will remove food debris, dead cells and bacteria. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to brush your tongue or a flexible tongue scraper
  • Brush after drinking or eating. Brush after every meal and at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. If you are not able to brush your teeth and tongue after eating, make sure you at least rinse and gargle your mouth with water
  • Floss regularly. Flossing at least once a day will remove food particles and plaque from the gaps between your teeth which a toothbrush may not be able to manage to clean every time
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Get your tooth cleaned by a dentist and get regular oral exams. This will allow your dentist to treat a problem on the spot before it progresses any further

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