Brown Tongue: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Brown tongue is a common condition with various causes. This blog post is for anyone curious about (or who is currently dealing with) the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for a brown tongue. We'll explore the different factors that can lead to brown tongue and provide tips on preventing and treating it.

8 min readBrown Tongue: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

If you look in the mirror and notice a brown tongue, your immediate reaction might be to panic. And we don't blame you—such severe discoloration of the tongue can be alarming.

But don't worry. Brown tongue is a common condition, and it often doesn’t require any medical attention.

However, it does require immediate analysis and potential lifestyle changes.
In this article, we'll discuss the most common reasons for a brown tongue, its symptoms, and potential treatments.

What Does A Brown Tongue Mean? Overview

Brown tongue is a condition where the tongue's surface appears brown or dark-colored instead of its typical pink color. While it may not always be a cause for concern, it can indicate an underlying health issue or poor oral hygiene.

Brown tongue might either show up as spots on your tongue or discolor the entire area to a dark brown. It is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as bad breath and an unpleasant taste in your mouth.

Some of the common causes of brown tongue include smoking, poor oral hygiene, certain medications, dry mouth, and medical conditions such as diabetes and liver disease.

Depending on the cause, brown tongue can be easily treated with proper oral care, medication adjustments, or treatment of an underlying medical condition.

Symptoms Of A Brown Tongue

The main symptom of a brown tongue is, of course, its discoloration. Discoloration can range from light to dark brown, and can even be black in some cases. On the lighter side, patients typically notice a yellow tongue that gradually turns brown.

Other symptoms may include:

  1. Bad breath (i.e., halitosis)
  2. Foul taste in the mouth
  3. Difficulty in swallowing or speaking
  4. Dry mouth or decreased saliva production
  5. A furry or hairy feeling on the tongue (i.e., black hairy tongue)
  6. Soreness or discomfort in the mouth
  7. Redness or inflammation of the tongue or surrounding areas
  8. A tingling feeling on your tongue
  9. Cracks or fissures on the surface of the tongue

Most of the time, the symptoms associated with a brown tongue will only last for a small portion of the condition's duration. If the problem persists, there may be a bigger underlying issue to investigate.

What Causes A Brown Tongue?

A brown tongue can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene: Inadequate brushing, flossing, and tongue cleaning can cause the buildup of food debris, bacteria, and dead cells on the tongue, leading to discoloration.
  • Smoking or tobacco use: Tobacco products contain chemicals that can stain the teeth and tongue, causing brown or black discoloration. Vaping can also impact your oral health and cause these problems.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia): Decreased saliva production can cause a buildup of bacteria and debris on the tongue, leading to discoloration.
  • Certain medications: Some medications can cause dry mouth as aside effect, meaning they can increase the likelihood of tongue discoloration. Common culprits include chemotherapy drugs, antihistamines, and opioids.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as liver disease, diabetes, and some autoimmune disorders, can increase the likelihood of developing a brown tongue.
  • Foods and drinks: Consuming certain foods and drinks such as coffee, tea, red wine, and spicy foods can stain the tongue.
  • Mouthwashes and oral rinses: Overusing mouthwashes and oral rinses can change the balance of bacteria in the mouth, leading to slight discoloration.
  • Tongue piercing: Piercing of the tongue can cause irritation and discoloration.
  • Tongue burns: Severe burns from a scalding-hot beverage or food can cause tongue discoloration.

Treatment of brown tongue will depend on the underlying cause, and may involve improving oral hygiene, stopping tobacco use, adjusting medications, treating any underlying medical conditions, and making dietary changes.

What Can A Brown Tongue Indicate?

A brown tongue can indicate several different things, and what it means for you will depend on contextual factors such as your medical history, lifestyle, diet, and oral hygiene practices.

  • Poor oral health. The most common reason people notice discoloration on their tongues is their oral hygiene. Neglecting basic oral health habits like brushing your teeth twice per day and flossing regularly can cause bacteria, food debris, and dead cells to accumulate on the tongue. This then leads to discoloration.
  • Illness or disease. A brown tongue can also indicate a medical condition such as liver or kidney problems, diabetes, celiac disease, anemia, HIV, cancer treatments, or even allergies.
  • Injury. If you burn your tongue, have tongue ulcers, or have recently had a tongue piercing or dental work, you may develop discoloration of the tongue as part of the healing process. This shouldn't cover the entire tongue—instead, it will usually be localized to the area of the injury.
  • Excessive use of tobacco and other staining substances. Tobacco use (i.e., smoking, vaping) can lead to brown stains on the teeth and tongue due to the chemicals it contains. Similarly, consuming certain foods, such as coffee, tea, and red wine, will stain the tongue.
  • Nutrient deficiencies. If your tongue turns purple, that could indicate a lack of iron or B vitamins. Sometimes, this is a sign of anemia.
  • Dehydration. Brown tongue can be a sign of dehydration, which can occur due to illness, exercise, or inadequate fluid intake.

What Does A Brown Tongue Look Like? (Photos)

Brown hairy tongue, caused by severe neglect of oral hygiene routine.

Slight tongue discoloration as a result of staining habits.

Significant tongue discoloration (black hairy tongue)

How To Treat A Brown Tongue

Depending on what causes your brown tongue, your treatment will vary. Let's take a look at different treatments and what might require them.

There are various treatments available for brown tongue depending on the underlying cause. Here are some of the treatments that may be recommended:

1. Good Oral Hygiene Practices

In cases where poor oral hygiene practices cause your brown tongue, improving these practices can be an effective treatment. This includes brushing twice daily, flossing, and using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria and debris from the tongue.

2. Quitting Tobacco

If the brown tongue is caused by tobacco use, stopping smoking or tobacco use is recommended. Tobacco use is also a risk factor for oral cancer and other health issues.

3. Medication Adjustment

In cases where medication side effects cause brown tongue, adjusting or discontinuing the medication may be necessary. This should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

4. Treatment Of Underlying Medical Conditions

If brown tongue is caused by an underlying medical condition such as liver disease, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder, treating the underlying condition can help resolve the brown tongue.

Sometimes, underlying conditions cannot be treated. For example, cold sores that cause herpes on your tongue will have to go away on their own.

5. Dietary Changes

In cases where the brown tongue is caused by the consumption of certain foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, or red wine, reducing your intake of these items may be recommended.

If you don't want to make these changes, you can still see some improvement by changing other lifestyle habits (e.g., brushing your teeth more frequently).

6. Tongue Cleaning

In more severe cases of brown tongue, a dentist or healthcare professional may recommend professional tongue cleaning or deep cleaning to remove buildup of bacteria and debris.

You should also take extra measures to clean your tongue at home. Brushing your tongue after finishing your brushing routine and using a tongue scraper can help prevent the buildup of bacteria and debris, ensuring no future discoloration occurs.

When Should I See A Doctor For A Brown Tongue?

If any of the following situations apply to you, it is best to see a doctor for your tongue discoloration as soon as possible:

  • The discoloration persists for more than 2 weeks.
  • You experience other symptoms such as fever, mouth sores, or difficulty swallowing.
  • Your new symptoms appeared suddenly, not at the same time as your brown tongue.
  • You have recently taken antibiotics or other medications known to cause tongue discoloration
  • You have a family history of oral cancer or other health conditions that affect the mouth.
  • You have concerns about oral hygiene or diet that may be contributing to the discoloration.

Who Is At Risk Of Developing A Brown Tongue?

You are more at risk of developing a brown tongue if you:

  • Smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco
  • Have poor oral hygiene
  • Consume certain foods and drinks that can discolor the tongue (e.g., coffee, tea, red wine)
  • Have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, liver disease, or an autoimmune disorder
  • Take certain medications known to cause tongue discoloration
  • Suffer to dry mouth or decreased saliva production

Want to learn more? These are the questions our customers ask us the most.

Why Is My Tongue Brown On The Sides?

Several factors, including poor oral hygiene, smoking, tobacco use, or consumption of certain foods and drinks could cause brown discoloration on the sides of the tongue. It is best to consult a dentist or doctor to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

Why Did I Wake Up With A Brown Tongue?

If your tongue turns brown overnight, it could be due to a buildup of bacteria, dead cells, or food debris on the surface of the tongue. Acute discoloration could also be caused by dry mouth or medication side effects.

How Should I Clean A Brown Tongue?

To clean a brown tongue, start by gently brushing the tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush or using a tongue scraper to remove any buildup of bacteria and debris. You should also consider an antibacterial mouthwash and drinking plenty of water to help flush away any lingering bacteria. If the discoloration persists, speak with a doctor or dentist for further advice.

What Home Remedies Can I Use For A Brown Tongue?

Home remedies may be helpful in treating mild cases of brown tongue caused by poor oral hygiene or dehydration. Try gently brushing and scraping your tongue, drinking plenty of water, or using an antibacterial mouthwash to help remove any buildup and promote healing.

How Do You Get Rid Of A Brown Tongue Fast?

How quickly you can get rid of tongue discoloration depends on the underlying cause. If it is caused by bacterial growth from poor oral hygiene, you should have no problem getting rid of it with proper brushing and flossing. However, if the discoloration is caused by a medical condition or medication side effects, you may need to talk to your doctor for treatment recommendations.

Should I Be Concerned If My Tongue Is Brown?

If the discoloration is accompanied by other symptoms such as bad breath or difficulty swallowing, or if it persists for an extended period of time, you should consult a healthcare professional. While brown tongue may not always be a serious condition (and this in no way means you should worry right away), it is best to determine the underlying cause to ensure proper treatment.

Will A Brown Tongue Go Away On Its Own?

Whether or not your brown tongue will go away on its own depends on the underlying cause. In most cases, improving oral hygiene practices (i.e., brushing and flossing more frequently) is all you need to do. But for serious issues (e.g., nutrient deficiencies, bacterial infections), medical attention and treatment may be required.

Why Is My Tongue Brownish-Yellow?

A brownish-yellow tongue can be caused by a buildup of bacteria, food debris, or dead cells on the surface of the tongue. It can also be a sign of dehydration or liver disease. Consulting a healthcare professional can help determine the underlying cause.

Why Is My Tongue Brownish-Orange?

A variety of factors, including dry mouth, certain medications, or excessive consumption of carrots or other orange-colored foods can cause a brownish-orange tongue. Usually, it isn't anything to worry about. However, if the discoloration is accompanied by other symptoms, such as bad breath or difficulty swallowing, it requires further investigation.