A woman with good oral hygiene brushes her tongue looking to avoid hairy tongue

Your tongue feels hairy. Yes, hairy. Not just that, it looks hairy, too. What has happened and what can you do to treat it?

What is hairy tongue?

Hairy tongue is when the bumps on the surface of the tongue enlarge, taking the appearance of small hairs. Normally, these bumps, called papillae, only grow 1 millimeter before shedding. If you have this condition, however, the hair does not shed and become elongated. The surface of the tongue can also turn brown or black if bacteria or yeast colonize the elongated papillae. About 13 percent of the population has hairy tongue.

It is not painful, but it may cause bad breath, odd sensations while swallowing, or a burning sensation on the tongue.

What causes hairy tongue?

Some medicines, such as those used to treat acid reflux, can cause this issue. Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer treatment can sometimes cause hairy tongue.

Smoking, drinking, and excessive caffeine consumption are possible causes. Dehydration, in addition to causing problems with your voice and throat, can also cause this condition.

Finally, poor oral hygiene may cause these tongue issues.

Can I get rid of hairy tongue?

Hairy tongue is fairly easy to get rid of if you practice good oral hygiene. This means regular brushing or scraping of the tongue, use of antibacterial mouth rinses, and good dental care.

Darrell Klotz, MD

“Hairy tongue is a benign condition treated primarily by increasing your hydration level or salivary flow and scraping or brushing the tongue,” CEENTA ENT doctor Darrell Klotz, MD, said. “Remember, the best treatment for hairy tongue is much like good summer lawn care – watering and mowing!”

If the problem arises from acid reflux medication or other medicines, talk to you doctor about any options you might have. Eliminating cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine can also help. In some instances, treatment with antifungals or antibiotics might be needed.

You might never expect your tongue to be hairy, but if it is, good hygiene and a good doctor, like those at CEENTA, can be a big help.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Klotz practices in our SouthPark office. To make an appointment with him or any CEENTA ENT doctor in the Charlotte region, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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