A hairy tongue is a medical condition that causes your tongue to look hairy either brown or black color.

Although you may think of it as hair growing on your tongue, this condition has nothing to do with actual hair growth on your tongue.

A hairy tongue forms when the filiform papillae FP on your tongue do not shed as they should.

FP are cone-shaped projections on the surface of your tongue and are typically about 1 millimeter, mm long.

Like your skin cells, the cells of your tongue have a life cycle that allows them to grow, serve their purpose, and fall off.

As this happens, the elongated FP begins to look like hair and this is where this medical condition draws its name.

It is often temporary and is also harmless.

It is also relatively common and about 13% of the population experiences one form of the hairy tongue at least once in their lifetimes.

Moreover, it is common in older people, though it can develop at any age. It is also more common in men.

Let’s learn more about it in detail.

Types and Causes of Hairy Tongue

More than one type of hairy tongue exists and each one of it has a number of identifying characteristics.

Moreover, they all happen to have different causes.

Thus, understanding which type you have and what causes it can help your treat it. The hairy tongue includes:

General Causes

It is not clear what causes a hairy tongue, however, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition.

For instance, a lack of stimulation on the top of your tongue can prevent proper shedding.

Moreover, if you eat a soft-food diet that does not have enough stimulation in your diet also causes enough abrasion.

Other causes of the hairy tongue may also increase your chances of developing it.

hairy tongue 1

These are as follows:

Using certain medications especially antibiotics, and proton-pump inhibitors, poor oral hygiene i.e. not brushing your teeth regularly.

Radiation therapy, especially to your head and neck, excessive use of alcohol, dehydration, dry mouth, excessive coffee or tea consumption, smoking, chewing, or dipping tobacco.

Causes of Black and Hairy Tongue

It is important to note that the black hairy tongue shares many of its causes with all hairy tongues, however, certain factors give this condition the telltale “black” look.

As the irregular FP on the surface of your tongue builds up, the cells can become discolored by the foods and beverages you consume.

causes of haiyr tongue

Moreover, this is due to the products you use. These products are:

Tobacco, smoking, dipping or chewing it, coffee or black tea.

Additionally, mouthwashes contain whitening or oxidizing agents like peroxide, and mouthwashes that contain astringent ingredients like menthol and witch hazel.

Substances like bacteria and yeast can also discolor the FP. As it grows longer, these substances can get caught in the hair-like structures, which can lead to greater discoloration.

A green tongue also results from fungal and bacterial growth.

Causes of While Hairy Tongue

White hair tongue can be the result of hairy leukoplakia.

This condition causes small, white patches with hair-like structures and these patches can grow to cover your entire tongue.

Unlike hairy black tongue, hairy leukoplakia  has very specific causes and the causes of this condition are mainly due to the following:

Epstein-Barr Virus, EBV: This virus is very common and can cause infectious mononucleosis, which is also mono, among other illnesses.

Mony individuals at least once encounter EBV in their lifetimes.

hairy tongue 2

Once you encounter this virus, it remains in your body, when it is active, it can have many symptoms and conditions like hairy leukoplakia.

HIV/AIDS: Individuals with HIV or AIDS are more likely to develop a hairy white tongue.

In some cases, it can be the first sign of an HIV infection. Most treatments of HIV and AIDS keep hairy leukoplakia away

However, if this condition returns, it can be an early indication that your medicines are not working properly.

Other Types Hairy tongues can also take on other hues including brown, gray, pink, or green.

However, in almost all cases, the causes are the same as black hairy tongue.

The color can be the result of foods or beverages you are consuming or products you are using.

For instance, candies and mouthwashes can color the FP.

Can It Lead to Other Symptoms?

A hairy tongue is almost always painless and rarely causes any other symptoms.

However, some symptoms or complications of a hairy tongue can occur at the same time as the elongated FP.

These additional symptoms are as follows:

Burning Sensation: The bacteria or yeast growth can cause a burning or stinging sensation on your tongue.

Gagging or Tickling Sensation: The extra-long FP may tickle the roof of your mouth or the back of your throat, especially as you swallow food.

Moreover, if you are extra sensitive to this sensation, you may also experience gagging.

Bad Breath: The bacteria or yeast growth that occurs in the FP can cause a smell.

bad breath

Rinsing with a mouthwash to remove the smell may make it worse, thus causing bad breath.

Abnormal Taste: The bacteria or yeast growth that occurs in your tongue can change the way food tastes.

The extra-long FP can even cover up the taste buds and prevent you from properly tasting what you eat or drink.

Treatment Options

A Hairy tongue is often temporary and usually is not a sign of a more serious condition.

However, some of the main causes of a hairy tongue are due to life-long habits.

These include smoking, thus it is often necessary for you to actively try and treat the condition.

The most common treatment options for hairy tongue are as follows:

Good Oral Hygiene: Proper brushing, twice a day or after meals, flossing once a day, and rinsing your mouth after every meal can help prevent hairy tongue.

Tongue Scraping: You can purchase specialized tongue scrapers that can help you to clean your tongue and remove dead FP.

oral hygiene

Discontinuing the Responsible Medications: In some cases, once you stop using a certain medication, the hairy tongue will disappear.

However, always consult your docotr if it’s ok to stop using that certain medication that is causing hairy tongue.

Moreover, you can also find an alternative medicine with the help of your doctor and replace the one that is causing hair tongue.

Stop Bad Habits: Smoking, uses of alcohol, and drugs can also lead to a hairy tongue.

Thus, cutting back or stopping the use of the above items altogether can help to restore a healthy mouth.

Eating and Drinking Items: Dark-colored liquids and foods can dye the FP on your tongue. These drinks are often tea and coffee.

Using or opting for more clear liquids like water can help alter the effects.

It is important to note that if these treatments are not successful, you should talk or consult your doctor about more aggressive treatment.

These treatment options are:

  • prescription antifungal medications
  • Over-the-counter, OTC antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine or Orajel
  • Surgical treatment to trim the FP.

Learn more about Quit Smoking for a Better Oral Health here. 

Visiting your Doctor

In most cases, you do not need a dor for hairy tongue unless the treatment you are trying at home is not successful.

These treatments include practicing good oral hygiene.

If that is the cause, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dentist and talk about the treatment options you have.

Moreover, your doctor or dentist will verify a hairy tongue diagnosis by examining your mouth and taking your medical history.

However, in rare cases, they might want to evaluate your skin from your tongue, IF they decide that is important, your doctor may perform a biopsy or scrape from your tongue.

You and your doctor or dentist can discuss different treatment options and strategize how to eliminate a hairy tongue if your initial treatment is not successful.

Prevention Tips

One of the best ways to prevent a hairy tongue is to practice good oral hygiene.

Keep the following tips in your mind:

Brush your Teeth: Brush your teeth after you wake up and before going to best, however, if you can do brush your teeth after meals as well.

Brush your Tongue: Do not just focus on your teeth, but brush your tongue as well.

If brushing the back of your tongue makes you gag or uncomfortable, then slowly work to move farther and farther back until you are comfortable.


Floss: The space or gap between your teeth and gums can hide bacteria and food particles.

This can lead to greater problems for both your gums and teeth, as well as your tongue.

Use Antiseptic Mouthwash: OCT products that contain antiseptics can help kill bacteria and reduce the risk of buildup on your tongue.

Taking care of your Teeth: Coffee, black tea, and soda are highly abrasive liquids.

They are not only bad for your teeth, but also affect your tongue.

It is thus important to drink fewer of these liquids and more clear ones like water or green tea.


The unpleasant and unsightly appearance of a hairy tongue can cause psychological discomfort or embarrassment, however, it is usually a harmless condition with no other symptoms.

Thus, maintaining good oral and dental hygiene is important in both preventing and treating such incidences, however, in rare cases medicine or surgery may be required to treat the condition.