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Have you developed a dark, fur-like coating on the surface of your tongue? If so, you may have developed a harmless condition called hairy tongue. Hairy tongue usually goes away on its own, but you may wonder what causes its development.

The tiny bumps on the surface of your tongue, papillae, shed dead skin cells and keratin everyday and re-grow new ones. With hairy tongue, these tissues do not shed; instead they continue to grow and create a build-up. Bacteria and yeast often get trapped in this tissue overgrowth, altering its color (usually to black).

What causes this hair-like build-up to develop on the tongue? It could be one of several reasons:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Poor oral hygiene practices
  • Tobacco use
  • Radiation treatment to the head or neck areas
  • Hot drinks which irritate the oral tissue
  • A soft food diet which cannot rub off dead tissues
  • Dental products containing oxidizing agents and astringents
  • Antibiotics altering the levels of bacteria and yeast in the mouth
  • A dry mouth
  • Medicines containing bismuth

Hairy tongue usually goes away on its own, but you can aid the process by eliminating the factors that might have caused hairy tongue to develop in the first place. Contact your dentist or doctor if the hairy tongue condition does not go away.