A hairy tongue is caused by an overgrowth of the hairlike rough
surface of the tongue (papillae). The tongue will look like it is covered with
A person with a hairy tongue often has severe bad breath (halitosis).
Soreness is not usually present.
Causes of a hairy tongue include poor oral hygiene, decreased saliva
in the mouth, and side effects of antibiotic treatment. Hairy tongue can also
be caused by the overuse of some types of mouthwashes and by smoking or the use of
smokeless (spit) tobacco.
Hairy tongue is not a serious condition and will usually clear up
after the antibiotic or mouthwash is discontinued, saliva flow increases, or
oral hygiene improves. Brushing the tongue daily with a soft-bristled
toothbrush and toothpaste or a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 2 parts
water may help remove the hairlike growths. This may also help prevent hairy
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD