Black Hairy Tongue – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Black hairy tongue is a condition of the tongue which gives it a black and furry appearance. Even though people who are affected by this condition may be distressed and shocked by its appearance, in reality it is a temporary and harmless condition that is easily treated.

What Are the Causes of Black Hairy Tongue?

The exact cause is uncertain, but it is believed that black hairy tongue is caused by too much bacteria or yeast growth in the mouth. The bacteria develop on small circular projections called papillae, which are located along the surface of the tongue. Instead of shedding, which is what usually happens, the papillae start to grow and expand, up to 15 times their normal size.

The papillae are normally pinkish-white. However, as they become larger, pigments from food, drinks, and conceivably the bacteria or yeast themselves get entangled in the papillae and change the color of the tongue. Usually, that color is black, which is where the name of the condition comes from. However, the tongue can also can turn yellow, brown, green, etc.

These are some lifestyle habits and conditions that may make people more susceptible to black hairy tongue:

  • inadequate oral hygiene
  • smoking tobacco
  • drinking a lot of coffee and/or tea
  • using antibiotics
  • being dehydrated
  • taking medications that include the chemical bismuth (for example, Pepto-Bismol)
  • not producing enough saliva
  • getting radiation therapy to the head and neck

What Are the Symptoms of Black Hairy Tongue?

Apart from the alarming appearance of the tongue, the grand majority of people with black hairy tongue do not exhibit any other symptoms nor do they feel any discomfort. There are a few exceptions. Sometimes excessive yeast growth can cause a burning sensation on the tongue, which is called glossopyrosis. Certain people also experience a tickling sensation in the back of the mouth. Others complain of a metallic taste in their mouth and nausea. In certain severe cases, black hairy tongue may lead to a gagging feeling. Also, the condition may cause bad breath because the food might get caught in the overgrown papillae.

How Do You Treat Black Hairy Tongue?

The best way to treat black hairy tongue is by practicing good oral hygiene. Gently brush your teeth on a daily basis. Also, brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper in order to thoroughly clean the area. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps to keep your mouth clean and fresh.

If you are a smoker, you should quit smoking. You can also add more roughage to your diet because soft foods will not clear food residue off the tongue effectively. If the condition does not get better on its own, you should call your dentist. Your dentist may prescribe certain medications to get rid of the bacteria or yeast. As a very last resort, the papillae can be surgically removed with a laser.

Even though you may be initially alarmed at the very sight of a black hairy tongue, it is important to remain calm as the condition is only temporary and perfectly harmless. Use some of these tips in order to lessen the chances of getting a black hairy tongue.

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