Hairy tongue: a colored deposit on the tongue

Hairy tongue is a change in the top layer of the back part of the tongue. The pink color gradually turns white or brown/black. The structure of the tongue becomes thicker and eventually it looks as if it has a layer of hair on it. Usually it is a harmless condition. It may cause unpleasant smelling breath or irritate the tongue. People who smoke, drink a lot of coffee or take antibiotics seem to be more likely to develop hairy tongue.

What it is

When a deposit forms on the back of the tongue, it looks like a kind of growth and is called hairy tongue. In the beginning you will see a kind of batter layer developing on the pink of the tongue. This layer gradually thickens and can discolor to white, gray, brown or black. It is also called white or black hair tongue. The medical name is lingua villosa . In some cases it appears as if there is hair on the tongue, hence the name. This condition usually does not cause any complaints, but it can lead to an unpleasant taste or unpleasant feeling. Sometimes there can be a tongue fungus.


The cause is not a disease, but it occurs as a result of substances that are regularly found in the saliva. The cause of hairy tongue is often impossible to determine. Normally, the top layer of cells on the tongue is worn away by eating food. The tongue mucosa produces new cells every day. A disturbance can arise between the wear and tear and new production of tongue cells. This can affect the taste buds on the tongue, gradually creating a hairy pattern. It can also be the result of smoking or pigments from food or drinks that remain in the taste buds.

Risk factors

Although there is not always a clear cause, this condition seems to become more common when someone does or undergoes the following:

  • Smoking
  • Drink a lot of coffee or tea
  • Poor oral care
  • Sucking on sweets a lot
  • Using antibiotics
  • Irradiation is done near the mouth
  • Reduced immune system


How do you know if you have hairy tongue? If the coating on your tongue is discolored white or black, it may be obvious. Certain bacteria can also cause the coating on the tongue to change color, such as yellow, orange or green. The batter is easy to scrape off and your breath may smell unpleasant. Sometimes the tongue will tingle or feel a bit burning. It may also happen that there are no complaints.


Also try brushing your tongue while brushing your teeth. If this is unpleasant, you can also use a special tongue scraper or tongue brush. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and you can also use toothpaste on the tongue. You can also choose to brush the tongue without toothpaste. Clean the back of the tongue with gentle movements from back to front. This often leads to improvement after some time.


To prevent hair loss or prevent it from coming back, it is better to stop smoking. It is also important that you take good care of your mouth and continue to brush your teeth and tongue properly. After the hair tongue has disappeared, try not to drink coffee or tea for a month. If you really enjoy drinking coffee and tea, keep it to a minimum.