Hair In Your Mouth (And Why It’s Growing)

Have you ever felt like there was a strand of hair in your mouth? Somehow, we have all been there.

If you love growing out your hair or live in an environment with animals, more often than not, you have felt the sensation of having hair sit on your tongue. But there are cases when exterior factors are not the cause. In fact, you could have a serious case of hairy tongue.

What is hairy tongue?

The name may sound alarming, but the condition that causes your tongue to look “hairy” is relatively harmless. Although not life-threatening in any way, it is a telltale sign that too much bacteria and fungi are growing in your mouth.

Because of its name and appearance, you may think that hair is growing on your tongue, but in truth, the condition has nothing to do with actual hair growth. In fact, it is the result of abnormal growth of the filiform papillae (FP) on your tongue, which usually sheds after reaching a length of 1 mm. Like skin cells, those on your tongue must regenerate. They have a life cycle that allows them to grow, serve their purpose, fall off, and regenerate.

Why is the “hair” growing?

The condition is diagnosed when the filiform papillae continue to elongate instead of falling off, growing as much as 18 mm. As they thrive, the FP is prone to collecting bacteria and fungi from various food sources you put in your mouth. Continuous buildup can also cause discoloration of the filiform papillae, thus, resembling hair.

The leading cause of hairy tongue remains a mystery, but certain factors (poor oral hygiene, medication, dehydration) can increase your risk of developing the condition that roughly 13 percent of the population experience.

What are the types of hairy tongue?

There is more than one type of hairy tongue, each having multiple identifying characteristics

and causes. Black is the more common kind, but hairy tongues can also appear white, gray, green, pink, and brown. The distinct coloration is mainly the result of consumable foods or drinks of varying hues. For instance, hard candy can manipulate the color of the FP.

What is black hairy tongue?

Black hairy tongue shares several of the same causes with nearly all hues of hairy tongues, but there are key factors that give this condition its infamous “black and hairy” appearance.

The common causes that tint the tongue with a distinct black coloration are:

  • Smoking or chewing of tobacco
  • Drinking black coffee or tea
  • Gargling with mouthwashes that contain whitening and oxidizing properties, as well as astringent ingredients
  • Further growth of bacteria and yeast that can get caught in the hair-like structures

One of the most effective ways to prevent hairy tongues is through excellent oral hygiene. However, patients who have had the condition are at higher risk for recurrence.

What’s next?

There is still much to learn about hairy tongues. Keep an eye out for our next blog, where we will discuss more extensive treatment options and when you should see your doctor.