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Black hairy tongue

What is black hairy tongue?

Black hairy tongue - also called lingua villosa nigra - is a black or dark coloured furry looking coating on the tongue. It looks and sounds bad, but is not a risk to health.

Black hairy tongue

Symptoms of black hairy tongue

Symptoms include:

  • The classic dark coating, which can also look brown or yellow
  • Bad breath
  • Taste changes
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Gagging sensation
  • Nausea
  • Worries over how the tongue looks

What causes black hairy tongue?

The dark coating is actually lots of tiny projections on the tongue's surface - called papillae - growing higher than normal and not falling off as they would usually.

Experts aren’t sure exactly why this happens to some people's tongues.

However, some risk factors are known. These include:

  • Oral hygiene problems
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Antibiotics affecting bacteria and yeast balance in the mouth
  • Mouthwash containing chlorhexidine
  • Medication containing bismuth
  • Food and drink stains


See your dentist or seek medical advice about black hairy tongue.

Treatment and lifestyle changes to get rid of black hairy tongue may include:

  • Improved oral hygiene
  • Stopping smoking
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Avoiding food and drink that make black hairy tongue worse
  • Brushing the tongue with a soft toothbrush
  • Avoiding mouthwash with chlorhexidine
  • Eating fresh pineapple - it contains an enzyme that breaks down the papillae
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 16, 2016

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