Copyright 2006 Martin S. Spiller, D.M.D.
The dorsum (top surface) of the tongue is normally covered with a carpet-like growth of very short hairs. These hairs are called filliform papillae. Their natural tendency is to shed after they reach a relatively short length. When this happens, the pink color of the underlying tongue mucosa shows through giving the dorsum the look and feel of pink velvet.
In some febrile conditions, however, the Filliform papillae do not shed until they are much longer. When this happens, the tongue is said to have a “coat”. The natural color of the filliform papillae is white, however, they often stain brown or black. When the tongue is overgrown with unstained filliform papillae, as shown in the image above, the condition is known as white hairy tongue.
Copyright 2006 Martin S. Spiller, D.M.D
When the filliform papillae have been stained brown or black by foods, smoking or other things the patient has had in their mouths, the condition is called black hairy tongue.
This condition is not dangerous, or contagious, but it can lead to bad breath (see my pages on Halitosis for more on this subject). The “coat” can easily be scraped from the tongue using a tongue scraper, or simply an inverted table spoon. Click here for detailed instructions for treating hairy tongue.