Why is My Tongue Black and What to Do

Why is My Tongue Black

Why is my tongue black? That is a question you are likely to ask in panic mode if you wake up and notice a difference in the colour of your tongue. A black tongue or black hairy tongue is a temporary condition that arises from various reasons, including poor dental hygiene. The term may sound scary, but the situation is usually harmless and is no cause for worry. Despite the name, the condition does not cause blackness under the tongue. However, you are likely to see the papillae overgrowing, seen as hairy growth.

The information below covers everything you need to know about the black tongue, including the causes, treatment, and prevention.

So, why does your tongue turn black? The tongue has little bumps – papillae, on the surface and sides. The papillae are cells that aid in tasting and usually shed off, allowing new ones to grow. If the cells do not shed well, they accumulate, causing a protein called keratin to be trapped on the surface. The buildup leads to enlarged papillae presenting as extended hairy growths. The growths trap more food particles, yeast and bacteria, leading to a condition called black hairy tongue.


Black hairy tongue is more widespread among older people, but that does not mean it is exclusive to aging. It can occur at any age. It is also more common among men than women, with the dominant causes believed to be smoking and poor oral hygiene.

Why is my tongue brownFailure to maintain proper dental hygiene is the primary cause of tongue discoloration. Other contributory factors to the condition are tobacco use, too much consumption of caffeinated drinks, and excessive drinking. Medical conditions and treatments like cancer, trigeminal neuralgia, low immunity, radiation therapy, and some oral and intravenous medications are additional causative factors. A dry mouth because of insufficient saliva production and failure to drink enough water can cause black spot formation – dehydration is associated with the condition.

Be cautious when taking medications like penicillin, erythromycin, doxycycline, neomycin, linezolid, and tetracycline.


Wanting to know and compare other symptoms is a normal reaction if you woke up with a black tongue. However, it is essential to note that the discoloration may be in different colours, such as yellow, brown, or white.

Waking up with a black tongue on the sides is also possible, even though the condition manifests at the center in most people. The condition can be asymptomatic, but you may notice the following symptoms:

  • The difference in taste. Food can suddenly taste different.
  • Bad breath
  • Gagging, tickling, or a burning sensation in the mouth
  • Nausea

Note: The black hairy tongue is not always dangerous but can indicate underlying health problems. The best solution is to see a dentist or doctor when you notice the above symptoms.


Prevention is easy once you understand what can cause a black tongue. It mainly involves maintaining the best oral hygiene practices and avoiding triggering elements like coffee, tea, too much alcohol, and tobacco. You can also steer clear of medications and foods that can cause it. Discuss the side effects of medications with your health care provider before you commence any treatment.

Other measures that can reduce the chances of a black tongue include avoiding mouthwash containing hydrogen peroxide, brushing appropriately, and scraping the tongue regularly to prevent bacterial accumulation.


So, your tongue is black – what does it mean? Your doctor or dentist can perform the necessary tests to give you a conclusive answer. The diagnosis starts with a visual exam. If there are concerns, the medical professional orders additional tests that may include fungal scrapings, bacterial culture swabs, or a biopsy to rule out cancer. Comprehensive diagnostics are sometimes necessary because other conditions can appear like a black tongue.

Examples include oral hairy leukoplakia caused by Epstein-Barr, pigmented papillae, and acanthosis nigricans. That is why consulting a medical expert is fundamental if your tongue looks black.


What causes a black tongue in the mouth, and is a black tongue dangerous? These are the two most common questions for most people before seeking treatment. Other than taking the preventive measures above, early consultation is critical when dealing with unusual colouring on the tongue. Your dentist will determine the best treatment early to help you avoid potential complications and recurrence. You may have to stop using some products like mouthwashes that contain hydrogen peroxide.

Home remedies you can try include improving dental hygiene practices like brushing teeth after every meal using fluoride toothpaste, brushing the tongue, and rinsing the mouth with warm salty water. You can also increase your water intake to prevent dehydration and include more fruits and vegetables in your meal plan to boost the cleanliness of the tongue.


Is black tongue dangerous? The answer is no. However, the condition can be stressful and might interfere with your self-esteem. You may become more self-conscious or even embarrassed. Contact a dentist for an early diagnosis and treatment. Remember, caring for your dental formula suitably is enough to prevent oral issues, including the formation of dark spots on the tongue.


Do black spots indicate a more severe problem?

That is not always the case, but it is possible. The colour change could be a sign of cancer, though that is most likely to manifest through lesions that do not heal. Your dental care provider can perform the necessary tests to ascertain the condition or recommend the best action.

How do I do to get rid of the spots?

The first remedy is brushing properly and scraping the tongue. You can also try home remedies that involve lifestyle adjustments – stopping some habits and giving up some foods. The dentist will discuss all the options with you. In rare and adverse cases, you may have to undergo laser surgery.

Can a black tongue develop because of my mouthwash?

Some mouthwash types, especially those containing hydrogen peroxide, have been associated with the emergence of black spots. The best way to determine if mouthwash is the cause is by paying attention to the changes you experience when using new oral products. In such situations, changing the mouthwash can revert the issue.