Updated on February 1, 2024
5 min read

Black Tongue: Why Is My Tongue Black?

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Why is my Tongue Black?

Keratin (a protein) and bacteria/fungi buildup can cause a black tongue. Dark beverages or foods can also turn the tongue’s surface black.

A healthy tongue is usually pink in color with a whitish coating. If you notice a black tint to your tongue, it can indicate an underlying condition.

Other Symptoms

A black hue to your tongue might be the only symptom you notice. Additional symptoms that can occur with a black tongue include:

  • A hairy appearance on the tongue
  • Fuzzy or sticky sensation in the mouth
  • Bad breath or bad taste
  • Gagging or nausea
  • Burning sensation

4 Potential Causes of a Black Tongue

The primary causes of a black tongue include:

1. Black Hairy Tongue

The primary cause of black discoloration on the tongue is a benign condition called black hairy tongue syndrome. 

A healthy tongue sheds keratin cells continuously. A black hairy tongue occurs when that process stops, causing the papillae to remain long. These long papillae give your tongue a hairy or furry appearance. 

The discoloration in a black hairy tongue is due to staining from external factors, such as beverages, tobacco, and bad oral hygiene. 

Risk factors for black hairy tongue include:1

  • Being male
  • Excessive use of tobacco or alcohol
  • Drinking coffee or black tea
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Radiation therapy to the head and neck
  • Cancer, HIV, or other immunocompromising conditions 
  • Antibiotics or other medications
  • Use of peroxide mouthwashes

A black hairy tongue typically improves within a few days of practicing good oral hygiene, but some cases may need further treatment.

2. Infection

A viral, bacterial, or fungal infection in the mouth can cause the tongue’s surface to turn black, among other colors.2 Other symptoms you might experience with an oral infection are:

  • Facial swelling
  • Fever
  • Pain in your jaw, teeth, or gums
  • Bleeding of the gums
  • Lesions on the tongue or mouth

Contact a doctor immediately if you have a black tongue and symptoms like these.

3. Lifestyle Factors

Your tongue may turn black due to habits you perform daily. Lifestyle factors that can cause a dark color on your tongue include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Frequent smoking, tobacco use, or alcohol consumption
  • Excessive drinking of coffee, black tea, or dark sodas

4. Medication Side Effects

Certain medications can cause a black tongue as a side effect. Medicines that may trigger black discoloration include:3,5

  • Antibiotics
  • Antipsychotics
  • Cancer treatments

Discuss any side effects you notice after starting a new medication with your doctor.

Is a Black Tongue Serious?

No, a black tongue isn’t typically serious. Most cases of black tongue are benign and can be treated by maintaining good oral hygiene.

Outlook for a Black Tongue

The outlook for a black tongue is positive.4 It typically resolves with good oral care practices within a few days.

How is a Black Tongue Diagnosed and Treated?

A doctor will perform an oral examination to diagnose a black tongue. They will also conduct a medical history to eliminate or identify underlying conditions.

The primary treatment for a black tongue is improving your oral hygiene practices. At-home remedies your doctor might recommend include:

  • Practicing excellent oral hygiene — You should brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once daily. Include tongue brushing or scraping as part of your regular routine.
  • Brushing after eating — If your tongue is prone to staining, you might want to brush your teeth 30 minutes after eating or drinking dark foods and beverages.
  • Avoiding tobacco or alcohol — If your black tongue comes from tobacco or alcohol use, cutting back on either will improve the condition.
  • Eat a healthy diet — Drink plenty of water and eat balanced meals with fruits and vegetables to help your tongue stay healthy.

Professional Treatments

Medical treatment is not typically required for a black tongue. However, if you have an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, antifungal treatment, or antiviral medication to treat the condition.

Your doctor may change your prescription if a medication is causing your tongue discoloration. They may also review what oral care products you use and recommend changes if necessary.

Why is my Tongue Black When I Wake Up?

If your tongue is black when you wake up, you might need to improve your oral hygiene. Your tongue could have a bacterial overgrowth due to not taking care of your oral health properly.

You may also develop a black tongue overnight if you consumed dark foods and beverages the night before. It’s especially common if you don’t clean your mouth effectively before bed.

What Should a Healthy Tongue Look Like in the Morning?

A healthy tongue is pink in color with a whitish coating. The coating is the papillae, the tiny bumps containing your taste buds. 

Your tongue should be pink in the morning and any other time of day. You may need to consult a doctor if it’s another color or if your papillae seem long or patchy.

Tips for Preventing a Black Tongue

You can prevent a black tongue by practicing excellent oral hygiene. Follow these tips to avoid developing a black tongue:

  • Brush and floss your teeth daily
  • Use a tongue scraper or brush your tongue daily
  • Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol 
  • Brush 30 minutes after eating or drinking dark food and liquids
  • Visit your dentist regularly
  • Quit smoking and excessive alcohol use
  • Cut back on coffee and black tea

Common Questions About Black Toungues

Is black tongue serious?

A black tongue is typically a benign condition that resolves quickly with good oral care practices.

What color should your tongue be when you wake up?

Your tongue should always be pink with a whitish coating, regardless of the time of day.

What vitamin deficiency causes a black tongue?

It’s rare for a vitamin deficiency to result in a black tongue. Low levels of niacin can sometimes cause a black tongue, though this particular deficiency is rare. 

Certain low-income communities with a diet heavy in corn may experience niacin deficiencies.6

Summary

A black tongue typically develops from poor oral hygiene. Your tongue may also turn black from lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, consuming dark foods and beverages, and infections.

Most cases of a black tongue are benign and will resolve with good oral hygiene practices. Sometimes, your doctor may need to prescribe medication to treat an underlying condition. 

The prognosis for a black tongue is positive. You can prevent it from happening by taking good care of your oral health, avoiding tobacco and dark beverages, and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings.

Last updated on February 1, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 1, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Gurvits, G., et al. “Black hairy tongue syndrome.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, National Library of Medicine, 2014. 
  2. Lai, Y. “Black tongue.” European Journal of Internal Medicine, Elsevier Inc., 2017. 
  3. Liccioli, G., et al. “Black tongue in children: a possible drug hypersensitivity reaction?” Minerva Pediatrics, National Library of Medicine, 2023.
  4. Owczarek-Drabińska, J., et al. “A Case of Lingua Villosa Nigra (Black Hairy Tongue) in a 3-Month-Old Infant.” American Journal of Case Reports, National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  5. Schlager, E., et al. “Black Hairy Tongue: Predisposing Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, National Library of Medicine, 2017.
  6. Redzic, S., et al. “Niacin Deficiency.” StatPearls, National Library of Medicine, 2023.
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