What Is Black Tongue?

Steph Coelho is a freelance health writer, web producer, and editor based in Montreal. She specializes in covering general wellness and chronic illness.

Learn about our editorial processUpdated on March 17, 2022Medically reviewedVerywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.byChris Vincent, MD Medically reviewed byChris Vincent, MD

Chris Vincent, MD, is board-certified in family medicine. He is a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and practices at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

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Black tongue (or black hairy tongue) is a harmless (benign) condition. Even though the name sounds scary, the condition is not usually a cause for worry. A black tongue can happen for several reasons, including poor dental hygiene. The treatment for the condition is usually simple.

Here's what you need to know about what causes black tongue, what to do if you have the condition, and when you should see your doctor or dentist.

Why Is My Child's Tongue Black?

What Causes a Black Tongue?

Black tongue is more common in older people but can happen at any age. The condition might be more common in men than women, however, the condition is more strongly linked to the smoking status and oral hygiene habits of an individual.

Black tongue is often related to poor dental hygiene, but there are also other risk factors including:

Common Tongue Infections

Certain medications are associated with black tongue including:

What Is 'COVID Tongue'?


Although the name for the condition implies that the tongue turns black, the discoloration can also be brown, white, or yellow. The discoloration is typically focused on the center of the tongue.

Some people do not experience other symptoms. However, other symptoms that may occur with black tongue include:

What Is Black Tongue?

Black tongue is usually easy to treat at home, but discoloration in the mouth can sometimes be a symptom of more serious conditions.

If you have discoloration on your tongue, make an appointment with your doctor. You might also need to see your dentist.


Doctors and dentists can usually diagnose black tongue just by looking at your mouth. If there’s any doubt about the diagnosis, your doctor may want to do more tests. For example, perform a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Find Out About the Early Signs of Tongue Cancer

Other tests that might be needed include:

There are a few other conditions that can look similar to black tongue, including:

What is Geographic Tongue?


You can prevent black tongue by maintaining good oral hygiene. Scraping or brushing the tongue can prevent food and bacteria from getting stuck on the tongue’s surface. When possible, try to avoid things like substances or medications that are known to cause black tongue.

For example, if a medication that you take is the cause of black tongue, your doctor might suggest changing to a different prescription.

Likewise, if the tongue discoloration is related to something you frequently eat or drink, dietary changes—like cutting out or limiting your intake of alcohol, coffee, or tea—can also help.

If you see your dentist about black tongue, they might suggest that you stop using mouthwashes that contain peroxide. Switching formulas may help prevent a recurrence of black tongue.

Sometimes, avoiding these things or making changes might not help the black tongue go away. If this is the case, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication or retinoid. In rare cases, laser surgery is required to treat the condition.

A Word From Verywell

Black tongue is not a serious condition, but it can be distressing. Even if the only symptom that you have is a change in your tongue’s appearance, you might feel embarrassed about it.

If you have discoloration on your tongue, talk to your doctor or dentist. They can usually diagnose the condition easily and help you find the best treatment.

An Overview of Tongue DiseasesWas this page helpful?Thanks for your feedback!

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