A black hairy tongue is a temporary and harmless condition that is often caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth. Certain types of bacteria accumulate on the papillae (the small projections that cover the tongue) and create red blood cell pigments, which can make the tongue look black. And if the normal shedding of the outer layer of cells on the tongue is inhibited, the papillae are larger and the tongue can appear "hairy."
No one knows for sure what causes a black hairy tongue. But some research suggests that it can be caused by a change in the normal bacteria in the mouth due to antibiotic use for a medical condition, or by using products that contain bismuth.
Other possible causes of a black hairy tongue include smoking or using other tobacco products, drinking excessive amounts of coffee or tea, and failing to follow a regular routine of daily oral hygiene.
Ironically, chronic bad breath has not been associated with a black hairy tongue, but using certain mouthwashes may increase your risk. Mouthwashes containing astringents (such as menthol or witch hazel), or full-strength oxidizing agents such as peroxide, may increase your risk of developing a black hairy tongue if you use them excessively.
Advanced Brush with Tongue Cleaning Mode
Fortunately, a black hairy tongue will usually resolve if you take these simple steps:
If the discoloration persists, see your dental professional.
This blog has been reviewed and approved by Dr Robert Lee,
a dental professional of 35 years
Dr Robert Lee
Dr Robert Lee is a dentist with more than thirty years of experience in the industry.
Graduating from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery and from the University of New South Wales with a Master of Business Administration, Robert’s career has taken him all over the world – from Australia to Germany to his current position in Chicago, where he is the founder of Denticus Inc., offering strategic dental consulting.
Robert has previously worked for Procter & Gamble as the Director of Professional Scientific Relations in both the Cincinnati and Sydney offices, being responsible for external relations and scientific exchange with leading professional associations and industry thought leaders. He was also responsible for all technical and scientific training for the professional teams in North America and Australia.
Robert has been assisting the team at Oral-B by fact-checking and reviewing our blogs on dental health. You can find a list of the blogs Robert has approved below:
Bad Breath (Halitosis): Causes, Remedies, and Treatments
The Best Electric Toothbrush of 2021
The Benefits of Electric Toothbrush vs. Manual
Find the Best Mouthwash for You
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