Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Hairy tongue, medically known as lingua villosa, is generally a harmless condition that alters the appearance of the tongue, making it appear discolored and furry. Hairy tongue is also commonly referred to as black hairy tongue (lingua villosa nigra), but the tongue discoloration may appear white, brown, pink, or green. The color of the tongue depends both on the underlying condition plus the presence of any additional factors, such as the type of food consumed. Hairy tongue is caused by irritation of the surface of the tongue, leading to the elongation of the papillae that are normally present on the surface of the tongue along with an absence of shedding of superficial cells that is typically facilitated by toothbrushing or dietary factors. A number of different conditions can cause the development of hairy tongue.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Dental (Oral) Health Quiz: Test Your Dental Hygiene IQ
Take the Dental Health Quiz to test your IQ of oral hygiene, cavities, and common tongue and gum diseases. This quiz covers...
Top Problems in Your Mouth
Learn about some of the most common problems in your mouth such as sores, oral cancer, TMJ, painful gums, bad breath and more....
Weird Body Quirks in Pictures: Brain Freezes, Hiccupping, & More
Ice cream brain freeze, hiccups, charley horses, vertigo--what's behind these weird body quirks anyway? Our experts explain...
Causes of Hairy Tongue
Alcoholism is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as...
Chewing Tobacco (Smokeless Tobacco, Snuff)
Chewing tobacco (snuff or smokeless tobacco) has more nicotine absorbed into the system than by smoking a cigarette. Chewing...
Dehydration is the excessive loss of body water. There are a number of causes of dehydration including heat exposure, prolonged...
GERD (Acid Reflux, Heartburn)
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a condition in which the acidified liquid contents of the stomach backs up into the...
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms and signs...
Smoking (How to Quit Smoking)
Smoking is an addiction. More than 430,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking related illnesses. Secondhand smoke or...
Other Causes of Hairy Tongue
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter