Black Hairy Tongue

Black Hairy Tongue (also called coated tongue) is a harmless and temporary condition in which a black coating develops on the top surface of the tongue. Although it may look rather ominous, it is completely benign.

Black Hairy Tongue Photograph

black hairy tongue photo seen at dentist office

Black Hairy Tongue seen on a female patient of ours who lived in Orange. Notice the raised “hairs”. She is a smoker. Photo Dr. Nicholas Calcaterra.

What Causes Black Hairy Tongue?

The front surface of the tongue produces a protective coating called Keratin. This keratin coating is designed for protection, as this area of the tongue gets a lot of use!

In some people, there is an increased production of keratin on the surface of the tongue. This happens most frequently when the tongue is subject to irritation, such as in individuals who smoke tobacco or frequently drink hot liquids. The excess keratin producing cells then die and then develop and brown or black color. Then, bacteria that is normally present in the mouth will accumulate, leading to additional darker colors and sometimes projections that look like hair.

Treatment for Coated Tongue

Remember that this is a harmless condition and is not contagious. To hasten the resolution, you can:

  • Purchase and use a tongue scraper on a daily basis. Many drugstores sell them as do some dental offices.
  • Discontinue the habit(s) that are likely producing the irritation.
  • Some studies support the use of a mouth rinse – while others show no beneficial effect.

Black hairy tongue is most often diagnosed by your dentist or hygienist. Another reason to not skip your 6 month visit!