What Causes Hairy Tongue and How Can You Get Rid Of It?

If you have ever noticed a change in the texture of your tongue or have trouble swallowing or spending time in social situations because of your tongue, then you might have hairy tongue. Hairy tongue is a condition that a lot of people have but don’t know what it is or how to treat it. In this post, I will explain what hairy tongue is, how to treat it, and how to prevent it from ever coming back.

1. What is Hairy Tongue?

The term "hairy tongue" refers to a condition that makes your tongue appear "hairy." Although the name and the appearance of the condition could lead you to believe that your tongue is actually growing hair, this is not the case. Hairy tongue is a benign condition of elongation and staining of the filiform papillae on the surface of the tongue. Filiform papillae are cone-shaped protrusions on your tongue’s surface. They typically measure one millimeter in length. The cells on your tongue have a life cycle similar to skin cells, allowing them to develop, perform their function, and then die and fall off. For individuals who are experiencing hairy tongue, their filiform papillae continue to grow longer instead of falling off and can grow as long as 20 millimeters. As they grow, the filiform papillae begin to collect debris such as leftover food and bacteria, which can also discolour the filiform papillae. As this happens, the elongated filiform papillae begin to look like hair.

2. How Common Is Hairy Tongue

Hairy tongue is relatively common with about 13 percent of the population experiences hairy tongue at least once in their lifetimes. However, it is often temporary and quite harmless. The initial symptoms of this condition is a dry, itchy, and flaky tongue. As the condition worsens, the tongue may become red, swollen, and covered in white bumps. It is also possible for the tongue to become itchy and painful. It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing this condition. You should also avoid drinking alcohol and smoking to avoid the condition from worsening.

3. How to Treat Hairy Tongue

It is not clear what causes hairy tongue, but it is possible that a change in hormone levels, or a fungal or bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction, or simply a lack of stimulation on the top of the tongue could be to blame. There are also certain factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. These include poor oral hygiene, use of certain medications such as antibiotics or proton-pump inhibitors, dehydration, dry mouth, excessive use of alcohol, and smoking or chewing tobacco.

4. Preventing Hairy Tongue

Hairy tongue has a tendency to be uncomfortable and irritating. It can also be embarrassing. The good news is hairy tongue is often only temporary and typically is not a sign of a more serious problem. Here are some steps that you can take to prevent hairy tongue:

  1. Brush your tongue with a soft toothbrush every day;
  2. Use a tongue scraper to remove excess food residue and bacteria;
  3. Rinse your mouth with a mouthwash that contains baking soda;
  4. Reduce the amount of dark-colour liquids and foods that you are consuming which can dye the filiform papillae on the surface of your tongue;
  5. Stop bad habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol use.

5. Conclusion.

Hairy tongue is a common tongue condition that affects many people. It is caused by the elongation and staining of the filiform papillae on the surface of the tongue. Hairy tongue can cause a lot of discomfort for the individual. However, there are a number of ways to treat the condition. One way is to have good oral hygiene, which includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing well, rinsing with mouthwash, and using a tongue scraper.



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2. Hairy Tongue: Why It Happens and How to Treat It. Healthline 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/hairy-tongue (accessed August 5, 2022).
3. Skinsight - Hairy Tongue. Skinsight n.d. https://www.skinsight.com/skin-conditions/adult/hairy-tongue (accessed August 5, 2022).