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Black hairy tongue is a condition which causes an abnormal coating of dark, hair-like growth to develop on the surface of the tongue. Though this condition is harmless, it can be repellent in appearance. Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of black hairy tongue.


Black hairy tongue is caused by a build-up of keratin and dead skin cells on the tongue papillae (the tiny bumps). When this build-up doesn’t shed, it traps bacteria, yeast, food, and tobacco, which stain it. The build-up of black hairy tongue can be caused by:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Changes in the amount of bacteria and yeast in the mouth (often due to antibiotic use)
  • Dry mouth
  • Tobacco use
  • Medications containing bismuth
  • Radiation treatment to the head or neck areas
  • Mouthwashes or other dental products containing oxidizing agents or astringents
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • A soft diet (which doesn’t not rub away dead skin cells)


The appearance of a dark, fur-like coating on the tongue is the most obvious and common symptom of black hairy tongue. This condition is also associated with:

  • An altered or metallic taste
  • Bad breath
  • A burning, gagging, or tickling sensation


Black hairy tongue usually doesn’t require treatment because it doesn’t cause pain or harm to health and it usually goes away on its own. However, the appearance of black hairy tongue can be repellent, so some steps you can take to get rid of it include:

  • Brushing your teeth (and tongue) twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Eliminating the factors that could be causing the black hairy tongue

If your black hairy tongue still persists, you may want to visit a doctor or dentist for more options.