Why Does It Look Like That? Four Reasons For Your Black, Hairy Tongue

5 August 2015
 Categories: Dentist, Blog


A healthy tongue should have tiny, pinkish bumps on the surface. These bumps are called papillae. Papillae grows just like your hair does, but usually breaks off when it reaches a certain length. Sometimes, however, the papillae can continue to lengthen and start to look like tiny hairs instead of bumps.

The extra length can become discolored, giving your tongue a black, hairy appearance. What causes this condition?

Brushing and Mouthwash

People who do not practice good oral hygiene are at risk for developing a black, hairy tongue. Brushing your teeth helps eliminate excessive papillae growth. If you have poor brushing habits, the papillae can continue to grow. The longer it gets, the higher the chances are that the foods and drinks you digest will stain the papillae, leaving you with a discolored tongue. 

Having great oral hygiene does not let your off the hook, though. Certain mouthwashes can also lead to a black, hairy tongue such as ones containing witch hazel or menthol. Excessive use of these harsh astringents can spur on the papillae growth. If you use these types of mouthwash, it is suggested to cut back on the daily use.


Smokers have been known to develop this condition. The smoke and tar can stain the papillae, again, giving it the black, hairy appearance. If you quit smoking, you can drastically lower your chances of developing this condition.


Following a soft diet can also be a reason for a black, hair tongue. Soft diets usually use foods that are mashed or pureed so they are easy to swallow and typically need little to no chewing. Because of this, soft foods do not help clean the surface of the tongue. If you are on a soft diet, try adding a little roughage to your diet.


Antibiotics can cause bacteria to grow in the mouth, which can build-up on the papillae and keep it from shedding. This can allow food and drinks to stain the surface. Also, medications with the chemical bismuth can also cause a build-up on the papillae. This type of chemical is usually found in medication for upset stomachs.

While a black, hairy tongue can be embarrassing, it is a harmless condition that usually resolves itself. To help the process along, practice good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth, including your tongue, twice a day. If the condition persist, a visit to your dentist may be in order. There are certain topical medications that can be prescribed to help get rid of the problem.

Contact a company such as Buffalo Dental Group to learn more.