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Black Hairy Tongue

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Black hairy tongue gets its name from the appearance of a thread-like pattern of dark “strands” on the tongue. While your tongue doesn’t grow actual hair, the condition makes your tongue look like it has.

What Causes Black Hairy Tongue?

Black hairy tongue is a rare condition, often the result of an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the mouth. When bacteria accumulate, they settle into the small bumps on your tongue called papillae. The color of tongue will depend on the type of bacteria present. As organisms weave through the papillae and papillae lengthen instead of sheds, the process creates the appearance that you have black or dark brown hair growing on your tongue.

Black hairy tongue typically manifests in the back of the tongue then progresses to the tip of the tongue as it grows. The condition only affects the top of your tongue, but the presence of the bacteria can cause you to have bad breath.

As you can probably guess, having black hairy tongue can be a little embarrassing. It can definitely have an impact on your self-esteem and lifestyle. While medicine hasn’t yet been able to identify all the factors that lead to black hairy tongue, we have been able to pinpoint certain factors that increase your chances of developing the condition:


Doctors prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause infections. The problem is antibiotics kill all bacteria – both the bad bacteria that is making you sick as well as the good bacteria that is keeping you well. Good bacteria is what controls the amount of yeast in your body. An overabundance of yeast from antibiotics is one of the main culprits of black hairy tongue.

Oral Hygiene

Bad oral habits can cause black hairy tongue as well as accelerate its progression.

Other Medications

Both prescribed and over-the-counter medications can have a swift impact on your health. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal agents contain a drug called bismuth subsalicylate, which helps control the fluids in your body. But this popular tummy medicine also alters the quantity and types of bacteria your body produces. Talk to your dentist to find out whether you are taking any antibiotics or medicines that can trigger an outbreak.


Smoking and any form of tobacco use can contribute to the growth of black hairy tongue.


Repeated use of mouthwashes which contain oxidizing agents like peroxide may also modify the amount of bacteria and yeast in the mouth.


Personal care products that contain witch hazel and menthol are a possible source.