Black Tongue

The upper surface of the tongue is covered by the taste buds. Viewed microscopically, the papillae look like a forest. Individuals with “black hairy tongue” merely have a taller-than-normal forest of papillae. The extra height comes from an accumulation of keratin, which is the chief protein found in hair and skin. Normally, keratin sloughs continuously and gradually from mucous membranes and skin. In people with black hairy tongue, not enough keratin is sloughed off or too much keratin is being produced at the surface of the tongue.

No one knows for certain what causes black hairy tongue, but there are several well-known associations. Black hairy tongue is fairly common among smokers. It is also sometimes seen following treatment with antibiotics. Other associations with black hairy tongue include radiation therapy to the mouth, poor oral hygiene, frequent use of strong mouthwashes and frequent use of antacids.

In most cases, black hairy tongue is more of a cosmetic problem than a functional problem.


Conditions that suggest Black Tongue


Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral  

Black tongue

Counter Indicators
Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral  

Absence of black tongue

Risk factors for Black Tongue


Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral  

History of black tongue

Black Tongue suggests the following may be present


Recommendations for Black Tongue


Oral Hygiene / Dental Care

Some folks with black hairy tongue also have bad breath and/or a bad taste in the mouth. The usual recommended treatment is to eliminate possible causal factors, and scrape or brush the tongue on a regular basis.


Weak or unproven link
Strong or generally accepted link
Proven definite or direct link
Very strongly or absolutely counter-indicative
May do some good



Compounds composed of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen present in the body and in foods that form complex combinations of amino acids. Protein is essential for life and is used for growth and repair. Foods that supply the body with protein include animal products, grains, legumes, and vegetables. Proteins from animal sources contain the essential amino acids. Proteins are changed to amino acids in the body.

Mucous Membranes

The membranes, such as the mouse, nose, anus, and vagina, that line the cavities and canals of the body which communicate with the air.


Neutralizes acid in the stomach, esophagus, or first part of the duodenum.

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