Seven Potential Causes for the Presence of Dark Spots on Your Tongue

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The appearance of spots, patches, and discolouration on tongues may not necessarily be harmful, but they can also indicate more severe conditions. From minuscule dots to visibly dark patches, black spots on the tongue can be quite alarming. If you observe any of these signs, you must inform a doctor promptly to obtain an accurate diagnosis. 

Dark Spots on the Tongue

Even if dark spots on the tongue are suddenly noticed one day, they could still be a regular occurrence. The tongue contains taste buds. These taste buds send signals to the brain regarding the taste of the food when you chew and move it around in your mouth. Sometimes, when consuming substances like red wine or coffee, the taste buds may become more visible and appear dark. These spots are harmless and will eventually fade away. However, if the spots are unrelated to your food, there might be a more serious underlying cause.

Causes of Dark Spots on the Tongue

1. Lie Bumps: Lie bumps, also known as transient lingual papillitis or liar’s tongue, occur when the papillae on your tongue, which house your taste buds, become irritated and swell. This results in painful bumps on the tongue. Interestingly, this condition has been associated with a superstition that it only affects individuals who tell lies. 

2. Geographic tongue: Geographic tongue is a harmless condition characterized by smooth, reddish patches on the tongue. Unlike cancerous growths, the geographic tongue does not spread. The name “geographic tongue” stems from the resemblance of the patch patterns to land masses and oceans depicted on maps. Although it is not painful or severe, it is advised to consult a physician if you observe any patches or other changes on your tongue.

3. Tongue Cancer: Occasionally, the presence of dark patches on the tongue can indicate a severe condition such as cancer. These dark spots may also manifest as scabs or persistent sores that do not heal. Additional indications of tongue cancer encompass the presence of lumps, swelling, and difficulties with swallowing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is imperative to seek medical attention promptly. Although tongue cancer is a grave ailment, treatment yields the most favourable outcomes when administered during the early stages. If the spots appear light grey and are situated on the side of the tongue, they could be a form of leukoplakia referred to as oral hairy leukoplakia. 

4. Thrush: Thrush, or oral candidiasis, is caused by the fungus Candida. It manifests as creamy white patches, sometimes accompanied by red lesions. While these patches can emerge on the tongue, they can spread to any area within the mouth and throat. Infants and older individuals are more susceptible to thrush. People with weakened immune systems or those taking specific medications are also at a higher risk. Other symptoms that may be present include raised lesions resembling cottage cheese, redness, soreness, bleeding, loss of taste, dry mouth, and difficulties with eating or swallowing. In most cases, diagnosis can be established based on visual appearance. Treatment usually involves antifungal medication, although it may be more complex if the individual’s immune system is compromised.

5. Black hairy tongue: The presence of brown, black, or grey patches on the tongue, resembling hair growth, characterizes a condition known as black hairy tongue. This condition typically arises due to accumulated dead skin cells that fail to shed. Poor oral hygiene practices, medication usage, and tobacco consumption are common factors contributing to this condition. It is more prevalent in men and tends to increase with age. Regularly using a toothbrush and tongue scraper is recommended to eliminate black hairy tongue. Dentists or doctors may employ specialized tools to scrape the tongue if these measures prove ineffective. 

6. Aphthous ulcers: Aphthous ulcers, also called canker sores, are superficial, whitish ulcers commonly occurring on the tongue. The exact cause of these ulcers remains unknown. Still, they may be associated with various factors, including minor tongue injuries, toothpaste and mouthwashes containing lauryl, deficiencies in vitamin B-12, iron, or folate, allergic reactions to oral bacteria, the menstrual cycle, emotional stress, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV, AIDS, and other immune-mediated disorders. Sensitivity to certain foods, such as chocolate, coffee, strawberry, and eggs, can also trigger canker sores.

7. Chemical Exposure: It is important to note that exposure to certain chemicals can also result in black spots on the tongue. For instance, when acids on the tongue’s surface come into contact with specific chemicals like bismuth found in certain medications, it can form dark patches or even turn the entire tongue black. However, once the person discontinues the drug, the tongue returns to its natural colour over time.


The condition of a person’s tongue can serve as an indicator of their overall health. Generally, the tongue consists of various small regions that play a role in sensation and taste. In most cases, patches, spots, or alterations in colour on the tongue are benign. Nevertheless, if you notice an abnormal spot that causes discomfort, it is crucial to treat it seriously. Such spots may signify a significant underlying health problem, and it is recommended not to disregard them.


1. Which vitamin deficiency causes spots on the tongue?

Black Tongue is a commonly used term to describe the severe consequences of a lack of niacin, also known as Vitamin B3. This deficiency can be life-threatening and is typically caused by a diet lacking niacin-rich foods such as liver, lean meat, poultry, fish, and beans.

2. What causes pigmentation on the tongue?

In most cases, spots on the tongue are typically harmless and tend to disappear on their own without requiring any medical intervention. However, specific spots on the tongue may serve as indicators of an underlying health concern, such as food allergies, autoimmune disorders, or, although less frequently, tongue cancer.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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