Hairy Tongue: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

Hairy tongue can be an embarrassing condition to have. Granted, it’s a bit of a misnomer, since no actual hair grows from the tongue, but the impact it can have on your appearance certainly isn’t flattering.

First, it’s important to understand you’re not alone if you’ve developed this condition.

According to estimates, approximately 13% of people will develop hairy tongue at some point in life. It’s typically a harmless condition and generally goes away on its own eventually.

Still, if you have this condition, it’s understandable that you’d want to know what steps you can take to get rid of it more quickly. Additionally, even if you haven’t yet developed hairy tongue, you might be interested in what steps you can take to prevent it in the first place.

The information in this article will help. Read on to learn what causes hairy tongue and what you can do about it. However, don’t mistake the information in this article for professional medical advice. 

This condition may be harmless in most cases, but you should still see a doctor to confirm you haven’t developed a related problem. A physician can take a closer look and determine whether you’re experiencing hairy tongue, or whether you’re experiencing a medical condition that requires treatment.

Of course, you may not have this problem yet, and you may simply be reading to learn more about it. It’s also possible that you’ve already seen a doctor about the issue and want to know if there are extra steps you can take to improve your condition rapidly. 

Let’s begin by delving a little deeper into what the condition actually is in the first place.

What is Hairy Tongue? What Are Common Symptoms?

Again, hairy tongue doesn’t actually involve hair growing from your tongue. In fact, it simply refers to an overgrowth of tissues that everyone already has.

Each person’s tongue has what are called filiform papillae. These protrusions are shaped like cones. However, most people don’t usually notice them. That’s because the cells tend to shed after a certain period of time. They typically don’t grow larger than one millimeter in length.

This doesn’t happen properly in people with hairy tongue. The filiform papillae continue to grow well after the cells would normally shed. As a result, they can reach up to 18 mm in length. While they are not technically strands of hair, their appearance can resemble that of hair. This is where the name of the condition comes from.

The filiform papillae also have a tendency to become discolored over time as they grow. This can be the result of exposure to bacteria, food, and other substances or materials in your mouth.

There are many potential causes that may be responsible for hairy tongue. It’s worth noting that experts don’t entirely know what causes the problem to develop, although they do know that certain factors can increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing this condition.

You should also know that hairy tongue is typically broken down into two different types.

White hairy tongue may develop if a person has HIV, AIDS, or the Epstein-Barr virus. That’s why it’s important to see a medical professional if you have this problem. While odds are good you already know if you have a condition that would result in white hairy tongue, it is possible to develop this issue without knowing what’s causing it.

However, the main form of hairy tongue we’ll discuss in this article is black hairy tongue. Although numerous factors can result in the filiform papillae taking on different colors, including brown, pink, and green, the same general causes are always responsible.

The only time the causes are different may be if a person has developed white hairy tongue. Thus, it’s important to understand that those overall causes may be.

What Causes Hairy Tongue?

It bears repeating: doctors and researchers have not reached a full consensus on what exactly causes this problem to develop in the first place. That said, they have identified potential causes and risk factors that seem to be common across people with hairy tongue.

Improper oral hygiene is a major contributing factor. People who don’t stay on top of their dental health are more prone to hairy tongue than those who do.

Certain bad habits have also been known to contribute to this problem. Excessive alcohol use and cocaine use can both result in hairy tongue. The condition is also more likely to take on a black color if a person uses tobacco products.

Drinking coffee or tea on a regular basis can also have this type of effect. In general, the use of tobacco products can boost a person’s likelihood of developing hairy tongue.

However, some people develop this condition even if they don’t engage in these habits. The development of hairy tongue has been linked to the use of certain medications, as well as radiation therapy.

Dehydration is another potential cause. So is chronic dry mouth.

The overgrowth of filiform papillae is the primary symptoms people experience when they have this condition. It’s not necessarily the only symptom they experience, though. They may also struggle with other problems. While they don’t affect everyone with hairy tongue, it’s worth understanding what they are so you can better understand the condition in general.

What Are Additional Symptoms Associated with Hairy Tongue?

Again, while these symptoms can affect people with hairy tongue, they won’t develop in everyone. You shouldn’t assume you don’t have this condition simply because you have few or none of the symptoms listed here.

That said, bad breath tends to be a problem often associated with hairy tongue. Because the filiform papillae grow to abnormal lengths, they can also tickle a person’s throat during swallowing. Some people experience a gagging sensation when this happens.

Others have experienced a burning sensation on the tongue when they have this condition. Additionally, the condition can have an impact on the way food tastes. This may be due to the fact that the filiform papillae cover certain taste buds.

28 Useful Remedies to Prevent and Get Rid of Hairy Tongue

Remember, most people with this condition don’t need any form of major medical treatment. It tends to go away on its own.

However, there are steps you can take to prevent it from developing. If it has developed, you can also take steps to make sure it goes away more quickly than it would without intervention on your part.

Keep reading to find out what you can do to prevent and treat this condition if you’re worried about developing it.

1. Stay on Top of Oral Hygiene

You already know that poor oral hygiene is a major cause of hairy tongue. Thus, staying on top of your oral hygiene is key to preventing it.

Brush and floss your teeth every single day, and see your dentist every six months for a more thorough cleaning. They can take a closer look at your mouth and determine if you’re at risk of developing hairy tongue.

You should keep in mind that many people don’t realize how brushing their tongue is also an important component of oral hygiene. After all, your tongue is home to many bacteria. Brushing it every day can also help prevent hairy tongue.

It’s also a good idea to discuss the proper brushing technique with your dentist. People often don’t realize that they are not brushing properly. Thus, they aren’t thoroughly cleaning their mouths. This can limit the effect of your efforts.

Asking a dentist to show you the proper technique will have a positive impact on your oral hygiene.

You also need to make sure you’re brushing long enough to optimize the results. For instance, you may not know that experts recommend brushing your teeth for about two minutes.

Consider timing yourself with your phone’s clock if you’re not sure whether you’re brushing long enough. You might also consider recording yourself or looking in the mirror while brushing to make sure you’re sticking to proper form.

2. Upgrade Your Toothbrush

You definitely deserve credit if you’ve made an attempt to stay on top of oral hygiene and brush your teeth on a regular basis. The problem is, if you’re brushing with the wrong tools, you won’t get the full benefits.

A toothbrush should be replaced every three to four months. This is because constant use can fray the bristles. As a result, they won’t clean your mouth as effectively.

Toothbrushes can also harbor bacteria that may have a negative effect on your oral hygiene. Experts recommend replacing your toothbrush sooner than you typically would if you’ve been sick, or if you tend to store your toothbrush close to others.

The bacteria from those brushes can transfer over to yours. Every time you brush your teeth with it, you’re actually exposing your mouth to that harmful bacteria. This increases your odds of developing a condition like hairy tongue.

3. Use the Right Toothpaste

You know that you need the right toothbrush in order to thoroughly clean your mouth.

However, you also need the right toothpaste. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose a brand that has been approved by the relevant dental or health organization in your country.

You could also simply discuss the topic with a dentist. Let them know you’re not just trying to protect your teeth, you’re also trying to guard against the kind of bacteria that could potentially lead to problems like hairy tongue.

They may be happy to recommend the ideal brand for your goals.

4. Avoid Mouthwash

This may not make sense to you at first. After all, by now you know that getting rid of bacteria in your mouth is key to preventing hairy tongue. You also probably have heard that mouthwash can be very effective at removing this kind of bacteria.

However, doctors have found that certain types of mouthwash can actually make this problem worse instead of better. This is more likely to happen if the mouthwash contains whitening agents or astringent ingredients. Agents and ingredients to look out for include peroxide, witch hazel, and menthol.

In this article, you’ll find that some of the remedies include directions for preparing natural mouthwashes that can be used as substitutes for the brands you currently use.

However, if you’re not confident they’ll yield all the effects you want, consult with a physician or dentist. They may be able to recommend another variety of mouthwash that offers the benefits you’re accustomed to without exposing your mouth to the kinds of ingredients that can exacerbate this problem.

5. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated offers a wide range of health benefits. Preventing hairy tongue is just one of them. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you’re consuming enough water on a daily basis.

Some people have a problem with this. They have busy lifestyles that require them to be on the go very often throughout the day. If this describes you, consider getting a water bottle that you can take with you wherever you go.

Having it on hand will make staying hydrated a much easier task. If you do make an effort to drink enough water, but still struggle with chronic dry mouth, speak with a doctor to find out if an underlying medical condition may be to blame.

6. Limit Bad Habits

Obviously, you should already make an attempt to limit your consumption of harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine. They can harm you in major ways.

On top of that, excessive use of any of these substances is linked with an increased likelihood of developing hairy tongue.

Make a sincere effort to quit if you currently practice any of these habits. Doing so will yield major health benefits in both the long and short term.

7. Talk to Your Doctor About Medications

You should never stop taking a prescribed medication before first consulting with a physician. The medication may be necessary for your wellness.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people to develop unpleasant side effects if they try to stop taking a prescribed medication without the supervision of their doctor.

That said, certain medications can increase your odds of developing hairy tongue. Talk with your doctor about this issue if you’re concerned.

Although this is not always the case, they may be able to recommend different medications that offer the same benefits without the unwanted side effects (Source).

8. Use a Tongue Scraper

Again, it’s a good idea to brush your tongue if you want to prevent this condition. However, that’s not easy for some people. They find that a normal toothbrush makes them gag when used in this capacity.

In these cases, you may instead want to use a tongue scraper. These are designed to offer the same cleaning benefits without any of the discomfort that can result from trying to clean your tongue with a normal toothbrush.

This method is effective because it cleans your tongue and removes some of the dead filiform papillae cells that could otherwise give rise to a condition like hairy tongue. It’s almost like an exfoliating treatment for your mouth.

9. Limit Sugar Consumption

Many people know they’re supposed to enjoy sugar in order to maintain their oral health. That said, they may not know exactly why.

When you better understand the effects that sugar has on your mouth, you may be more likely to be vigilant about keeping it out of your diet in excessive quantities.

Sugar gets left behind in your mouth any time you have a sweet meal or beverage. If you don’t clean the sugar away in time, it can attract bacteria that eat away at dental tissues and make you more prone to conditions like hairy tongue.

It’s also worth noting that sugar tends to hide in places where people may not expect it. After all, you can make an effort to avoid candy and desserts that contain sugar, not realizing that there are often extremely large quantities of sugar in soda, juice, and similar beverages.

That’s why it’s important to check the nutrition label on any food you buy before consuming it. There may be a lot more sugar in an item than you expected.

10. Brush After Eating

Now you know why you should limit sugar in your diet. You might also realize why brushing your teeth is important. It removes the leftover material that could otherwise attract bacteria.

In fact, some experts recommend brushing after every meal for the best results. While some people stick to brushing their teeth at certain set times during the day, you’ll be more likely to avoid problems like hairy tongue if you’re proactive about brushing immediately after a meal.

Flossing is also important. That’s because brushing doesn’t actually reach all dental surfaces. You’re not going to completely clean your mouth of harmful bacteria if you rely strictly on brushing alone.

It may be a good idea to always keep a kit with a brush, toothpaste, and dental floss in your office. Having easy access to oral care tools makes the process of brushing and flossing regularly much easier.

11. Try Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe vera is an incredible natural ingredient that offers a wide range of health benefits. That’s because it has natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Thus, it can also be used to help get rid of and prevent hairy tongue. Just make sure you’re using a natural aloe vera juice that is safe for human consumption. Sometimes manufacturers mix aloe vera with other ingredients on cosmetic products. Some of those ingredients may cause harm if ingested.

Start by simply rinsing out your mouth with the aloe vera juice. This will help kill much of the bacteria responsible for your condition. Once you’ve done this, drink some aloe vera juice to enhance the effects.

Many of these natural remedies require a certain amount of time to elapse before they take effect. You shouldn’t assume this type of remedy isn’t working simply because you haven’t experienced the desired results right away.

By sticking to this routine on a daily basis, you’ll likely notice your hairy tongue problem starting to diminish sooner than expected.

12. Add More Table Salt to Your Diet

This may come as a surprise. After all, many people have been told that including too much salt in their diet can actually have a negative impact on their health.

While the jury may still be out on just how much salt is too much salt, in the meantime, you can add a little more table salt to your meals to help prevent and/or get rid of hairy tongue.

That’s because naturally has antibacterial properties. That’s why it’s been used to preserve foods throughout human history. Thus, it can help remove the bacteria responsible for your condition.

Table salt that’s been processed is typically a better choice than natural sea salt. This is due to the fact that it tends to be more abrasive. In this case, that’s a good thing, as it can be more effective at removing dead cells and bacteria.

For the best results, you don’t even need to eat the salt. You can just a tablespoon to a glass of warm water and mix the ingredients together thoroughly. Gargle with the salt water, then spit it out, cleaning your mouth without consuming more salt than you may be comfortable with.

13. Give Turmeric a Try

Turmeric is another natural ingredient that is well-known for its antibacterial properties.

To take advantage of the benefits it has to offer, mix some turmeric with lemon juice and warm water. Gargle like you would with the salt water, then spit it out, repeating the process once every day. Over time, you’ll start to notice clear benefits.

14. Chew Garlic

Garlic isn’t just a great ingredient for improving the taste of a meal. It’s also been known to have strong anti-fungal properties that make it very useful if you’re trying to get rid of hairy tongue.

For this remedy, simply chew on a clove of raw garlic every morning. You may want to brush thoroughly after doing so to remove the smell from your mouth. Although you might be tempted to use mouthwash as well, it’s important to understand that excessive use of certain types of mouthwash can actually exacerbate your problem. You’re better off avoiding it.

If the idea of chewing on raw garlic in the morning doesn’t sound all that appealing to you, head to your pharmacy and pick up some garlic supplements instead. Taking them as directed can also help you get rid of hairy tongue.

In the meantime, consider adding more garlic to your meals. It’s a very versatile ingredient that can have a major impact on your wellness.

15. Add Some Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is easy to find in many households. There’s a good chance you already have some on hand.

Luckily, it can also be very useful for treating hairy tongue and preventing it from coming back. Just make sure you’re using a 3% or 4% solution that is safe for human consumption.

You want to avoid consuming hydrogen peroxide in general, but since you’re going to be applying it to your tongue, there’s a chance you may ingest some of it.

This remedy simply involves using hydrogen peroxide the same way you would use toothpaste. Apply a little bit to your tongue and brush the surface with a toothbrush or tongue scraper. Making this part of your oral care routine while you have hairy tongue can do a long way towards getting rid of the problem.

16. Use Baking Soda

Baking soda is another item you may have in your home. It’s an extremely versatile item that can offer major benefits in several different ways. Helping to get rid of hairy tongue is just one of its uses.

Baking soda is effective in this regard because it has natural exfoliating properties. That means it removes the dead cells on your tongue that could otherwise contribute to a problem like hairy tongue.

To get the best results, mix about a teaspoon of baking soda with warm water and use it the same way you would use mouthwash.

Again, because certain types of mouthwash have been known to make a hairy tongue problem worse, this is a better alternative to rely on as you deal with this condition.

17. Get Rid of Bacteria with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil, like many other natural ingredients, can be very effective at killing and removing bacteria. That’s why some experts recommend using it to treat hairy tongue.

For this remedy, swish about three teaspoons of coconut oil in your mouth before brushing your teeth. Spit the oil out after a few moments, rinse the rest away with warm water, then brush your teeth the same way you normally would.

18. Have More Yogurt

You should know that not all bacteria are bad for you. Your body needs healthy bacteria in order to prevent certain conditions. Hairy tongue is one such condition.

That’s why many recommend consuming a cup of yogurt every day, especially if you have hairy tongue. It will restore balance to your body by providing you with more of the healthy bacteria you need while getting rid of the bacteria that could otherwise cause problems.

The fact that it can be quite delicious is an added benefit.

19. Take Probiotic Supplements

Eating yogurt on a regular basis can go a long way towards making sure your body has the right bacteria in it to guard against problems like hairy tongue.

That said, yogurt is by no means the only item you can use to create these conditions. Probiotics have also been known to restore healthy levels of bacteria.

Best of all, they’re often available in supplement form, so taking them is usually as easy as just swallowing a pill.

Find a probiotic supplement, or ask a physician or pharmacist to recommend one, and use it according to the directions on the label. Along with yogurt, it can help remove unwanted bacteria while providing your body with more of the healthy bacteria it needs.

20. Give Oregano Oil a Try

Like many of the other natural ingredients on this list, oregano oil is known to have natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Thus, it’s helpful for people who are struggling with hairy tongue.

For this remedy, add a few drops of oregano oil to your tongue, then brush gently but thoroughly. Once you’re done, rinse out your mouth. Repeat on a daily basis for the best possible effects.

21. Or Try Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is another natural oil that has properties which make it very effective at preventing and getting rid of hairy tongue. Best of all, you don’t need to do much to take advantage of these benefits.

All you need to do is add a small drop of peppermint oil to your toothpaste before brushing. This can enhance the effects of the toothpaste and help you get rid of the bacteria that would otherwise cause hairy tongue or similar conditions.

22. Use Other Effective Oils

Oregano oil and peppermint oil are not the only ingredients that with antibacterial and antifungal properties that can be useful for addressing a hairy tongue problem.

Both neem oil and tea tree oil have also cultivated a reputation for helping people address this issue. Thus, you may want to opt for them instead if they are more readily available.

Whichever option you choose, simply follow the same instructions from the remedy listed above. Add a drop or two of the oil to your toothpaste before brushing, then brush exactly as you normally would, rinsing your mouth out thoroughly when you’re done.

It’s important to once more reiterate that natural remedies and ingredients can be very effective, but they won’t get rid of your problem overnight.

It took a long time for hairy tongue to develop. Thus, it can take some time for these ingredients to reverse its process.

However, if you stick to an oral care routine that involves one or more of these remedies, in the long run, you will see major results.

23. Eat More Carrots and Apples

Carrots and apples are both good for you. Of course, if you’re going to be consuming more apples than you normally would, you might also want to make sure you’re staying on top of brushing your teeth vigilantly.

Apples do offer health benefits, but they also contain relatively high quantities of sugar. Even from natural sources, sugar can attract bacteria that will make you more vulnerable to conditions like hairy tongue.

Luckily, carrots and apples are typically easy to find, and they have natural properties which help to clean your mouth. Their texture is also useful in this respect. Because they are crunchy, they are more effective than softer foods can be at removing the bacteria and cells that would otherwise contribute to your problem.

24. Control Your Dry Mouth

As you’ve already read, dry mouth has been linked with an increased likelihood of developing hairy tongue. Thus, if you are prone to dry mouth, it’s a good idea to take steps to control it.

There are several ways you can do this. Obviously, sipping water throughout the day can help, but that’s not always enough for some people to fully manage this problem. That’s why you may want to take extra steps.

Chewing sugar-free gum on a regular basis can be helpful. Obviously, you don’t want to expose your mouth to more sugar. This is why you need to choose a sugar-free option.

That said, chewing gum regularly can stimulate the production of saliva in your mouth. This helps rinse away bacteria that could contribute to hairy tongue.

Also, try to be conscious of your breathing habits. Many people breathe through their nose fairly naturally. However, others have the habit of breathing through their mouth instead. This can dry the tongue over time. If you notice you tend to do this, focus on learning to breathe through your nose until you no longer have to think about it.

You might also consider installing a humidifier in your home or office if this is a major problem. More humid conditions can help prevent dry mouth.

That said, there are many factors which can potentially exacerbate this condition. If you’ve been following these steps but still aren’t seeing any improvement, discuss the topic with a physician.

Sometimes getting rid of dry mouth is as simple as not using certain items or medications, like over-the-counter decongestants. A doctor can help you identify which factors are making your dry mouth worse, so you can address the problem more effectively.

25. Give Vegetable Glycerin a Try

Vegetable glycerin is commonly used in many different products. It’s non-toxic and has no odor, so you don’t have to worry about any dangers from using it. You can typically find it easily at many major stores. Luckily, it can also be useful for people who have hairy tongue and want to get rid of it.

For this remedy, simply apply some of the vegetable glycerin to your tongue and brush it, rinsing out after you are done. Adding this step to your daily oral care routine can help you get rid of hairy tongue more quickly than you might be able to otherwise.

26. Avoid Coffee and Tea

Many people today rely on large amounts of coffee or tea to get through the workday. Unfortunately, this can have negative side effects.

Excessive consumption of caffeine has been linked with an increased likelihood of developing dry mouth, which in turn is associated with an increased risk of developing hairy tongue.

Coffee and tea have also been known to contribute to the unpleasant black color that filiform papillae can take on over time.

While it may be difficult to limit your consumption of these beverages if you’ve grown accustomed to drinking them on a regular basis, in the long run, reducing your consumption of tea and coffee will yield better results.

27. Give Activated Charcoal a Try

Activated charcoal can be useful in addressing several health conditions because unwanted contaminants in the body can bind to it, helping you to remove them.

This may be why it’s often recommended for people who are trying to get rid of or prevent hairy tongue. It may help to remove the bacteria and toxins which have been known to contribute to this problem.

However, it’s worth noting that activated charcoal can be harmful when mixed with certain medications or used improperly. Thus, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician before deciding to use it.

If you do, don’t apply activated charcoal directly to your mouth. You can find special types of toothpaste which include it as a main ingredient. You might even ask your dentist to recommend one if you want to be sure you’re getting a safe product.

28. Don’t Skip Dental Appointments

This can’t be stated enough. Yes, you already know that you need to make sure you’re brushing and flossing regularly (and correctly!) to reduce your odds of developing hairy tongue. That’s because doing so removes much of the bacteria that could otherwise cause this type of problem.

However, brushing and flossing alone are not enough to yield the effects you’re after. That’s because you simply can’t give your mouth a truly thorough cleaning without the proper training and tools. 

Dentists use techniques and specialized instruments to clean areas of your teeth and mouth that you wouldn’t be able to reach on your own.

Thus, making sure you schedule dental cleanings once every six months is one of the smartest ways to prevent and get rid of this condition. It also helps to have a professional monitor it with you.

Conclusion

While the remedies here are absolutely helpful, you should still consult with a physician and/or dentist to make sure your hairy tongue isn’t actually linked to a more significant problem.

That said, odds are good it’s simply a harmless issue. Still, it’s a harmless issue that can affect your appearance and comfort. Make sure you’re taking the steps described here to address it.

Useful Links

I hope this article would prove useful to you. Our writers did extensive research from the following sources to compile a list of most useful remedies to treat hairy tongue.

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