It could mean: you don’t have the best oral hygiene or tongue health. A tongue covered in dark hairs (actually called black hairy tongue) may look nasty, but doctors agree that it’s not cause for major concern. “We have papillae, small bumps on the surface of our tongue, which grow throughout our lifetime,” explains Dr Ada Cooper.
Papillae are normally worn down by chewing and drinking, but sometimes they can become overgrown, which makes them more likely to harbour bacteria or become discoloured from food. This can cause bad breath or taste abnormalities. “Typically [black and hairy tongue] is brought on by smoking, drinking coffee and dark teas, or poor dental hygiene,” says Dr Jack Krikor Der-Sarkissian. “Removing the offending cause, like smoking, and brushing the tongue or using a tongue scraper, may be all you need.”