Causes, Treatments, and Pictures of Black & White "Hairy Tongue"

What does Hairy Tongue mean?

Hairy tongue refers to the condition of the tongue characterized by the collection of keratin and elongation on the filiform papillae on the mid dorsum surface of the tongue. The accumulation and the elongation produce a hairy like appearance on the tongue.

Hairy tongue is also referred to as lingua villosa and microscopically characterized with irregular hyperplastic filiform papillae revealing hyperorthokeratosis containing copious bacteria and filamentous organisms on the surface layer of the tongue and deeper in between the fronds of epithelium.

The tongue is the primary organ of gustatory and is made up of a group of muscles responsible for the mastication or manipulation of food during the process of eating. The secondary function of the tongue is for the phonetic articulation which allows the human to speak. The tongue is a sensitive organ covered with papillae and taste buds on the upper surface. It is kept moist by the saliva and supplied abundantly with blood vessels and nerves. The papillae are the tiny bumps on the surface of the tongue that gives it its rough texture. The surface of the papillae is covered with a collection of nerve-like cells that are linked to the nerves going to the brain. These nerve-like cells are called taste buds. The tongue is also composed of numerous nerves that facilitate transmission of signals to the brain thereby detecting the four common tastes.

The hairy tongue commonly develops in the mid dorsum of the tongue with hypertrophy of the filiform papilla creates a thick layered mat on the dorsal surface. Extreme cases of hairy tongue may create a thick and leathery coating on the surface of the tongue with the condition referred to as encrusted tongue. The hypertrophy of the filiform of the papillae can cause gagging when it comes into contact or brushes the soft palate. The development of hairy tongue may not be a serious or life-threatening condition and may not be medically specific but the onset can cause discomfort and irritation due to the accumulation of food debris and other microorganisms on the tongue. The hairy tongue on the other hand may mirror the general well being or health status of an individual as the onset may also be associated with various systemic diseases.

Black hairy tongue Pictures

Black Hairy Tongue

Black hairy tongue is also referred to as lingua villosa nigra. It is generally a painless and harmless condition of the tongue characterized by the development of black furry discoloration that gives it its hairy appearance.

The onset of black hairy tongue consists of two problems which are the blackish or brownish discoloration of the filiform papillae and the elongation of the papillae or commonly known as the taste buds. The appearance of the black hairy tongue may be alarming but the condition is generally harmless and painless although it can cause a gagging sensation and a bad taste and the onset may also be associated with halitosis or bad breath.

The manifestation of black hairy tongue may be asymptomatic but physical changes in the surface of the tongue may be noticed. Discoloration of the mid dorsum of the tongue is the apparent symptom which may have a blackish, brownish or yellowish discoloration. It is also accompanied by a hairy appearance on the surface of the tongue. Alteration in taste may also be experienced such as metallic taste. Oral malodor and gagging sensation may also be exhibited by an individual suffering from black hairy tongue. The condition may be harmless and painless but it definitely can affect the cosmetic concern where black hairy tongue is rather unattractive.


The onset of black hairy tongue resulted from the accumulation of food debris, bacteria and other microorganism on the papillae. The hairy appearance is the result of the filiform papillae elongation which is unable to shed as it is supposed to. The exact cause of black hairy tongue has not been determined although factors are being considered potential for the incidence such as:

  • Improper and poor oral hygiene.
  • Heavy coffee drinking accompanied with heavy cigarette or tobacco smoking.
  • Medications being taken that contain bismuth.
  • Habitual use of mouthwash that contains oxidizing agents or astringent agents.


Black hairy tongue is a temporary and harmless condition that may not need treatment. The aim to restore the tongue back to its normal appearance can be helped by practicing good and proper oral hygiene. Regular brushing of the teeth and gums including the tongue with the use of soft bristles can help in removing food debris. Hydrate the oral cavity by drinking plenty of water to prevent the oral cavity from drying which can make the bacteria and other microorganisms flourish within the oral cavity and accumulate in the papillae. Change in lifestyle is also necessary by reducing or possibly refraining from cigarette smoking and heavy intake of coffee. Podophyllin is a keratolytic agent that can remove the keratin on the surface of the tongue, although careful use of the agent must be observed.

White hairy tongue Pictures

White Hairy Tongue

The white hairy tongue is another oral condition that is painless but can cause bad breath and discomfort. The onset of the white hairy tongue is usually a film of bacteria growth on the papillae. The development of white coating on the surface of the tongue is often a manifestation of oral thrush or Candida albicans. The white hairy tongue can either be a little furry or very furry as the two main varieties of its onset. Little furry presentation of the white hairy tongue is the normal layer of bacteria that every normal tongue is expected to have. The thick furry appearance on the other hand calls for a concern as this could mean fungal and other microorganism infestation.


Candida albicans or Oral thrush is the most common cause of white hairy tongue. The abundance of which in the oral cavity particularly in the tongue is the result of an imbalance in the oral acidity and the weakened immune system.

Eating too many sweets can only nourish and help the Candida to flourish in the mouth. Bacteria are also the most common cause of white hairy tongue. A sulfur compound produced by the bacteria can result to oral malodor while the compounds are also being secreted by the bacteria on the surface of the mouth thus resulting to the white hairy tongue.

Other causes of white hairy tongue include the following:

  • Poor and improper oral hygiene
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Nutritional deficiency resulting from an improper diet
  • Reaction to certain medication
  • Chronic disease such as diabetes


The primary treatment of white hairy tongue is through proper and good oral hygiene. Regular brushing of teeth, gums and tongue using a soft bristle is beneficial in getting rid of the white hairy tongue. A tongue scraper is also recommended to remove debris and other microorganisms that cannot be removed with brushing alone.

It is important to keep the oral cavity well hydrated to keep it from drying which can make the bacteria flourish. Taking in plenty of water every day is enough to keep the mouth well hydrated. Change in lifestyle is also necessary by refraining from eating too many sweets and by refraining from smoking cigarettes.

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Comments 2 comments

cuttler profile image

cuttler 2 years ago from HubPages

Awesome information. I have seen one or two people with these conditions and it sort of freaks me out. Thanks for demystifying this condition.

Nancy Sloan 2 weeks ago

This stuff is not only growing on my tongue but inside my whole mouth. Have tried everything to cure it. HELP PLEASE

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