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Black Hairy Tongue is just as it sounds: a tongue that turns black and hairy! A scary looking condition, what exactly is it and should you be worried? Find out what the causes are and what needs to be done to get rid of it.

Although it sounds truly awful, this health condition is not dangerous. It’s a little scary to discover it in your mouth perhaps, but no serious risk at all. The medical term for Black Hairy Tongue is "lingua villosa nigra", and this is purely because of its appearance. The tongue becomes black or brown in color on the top surface of the tongue. The tongue is covered in small round bumps and these elongate to give the appearance of hair or fur. Hence the name, Black Hairy Tongue.

Are There Any Symptoms?

The main symptom of Black Hairy Tongue is the appearance. Other symptoms that some people may experience are as follows:

  • Other discoloration such as green, yellow or white
  • Altered taste
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Gagging or tickling sensation

The alteration of taste is because of the effects of the papillae, which contain taste buds. Halitosis is due to existing conditions of the oral cavity, such as diseased gums and teeth, poor oral hygiene, or because of the bacteria that causes Black Hairy Tongue. Thankfully, all of these symptoms are temporary, and none of them are serious or lead to other serious conditions.

What Causes Black Hairy Tongue?

The definitive cause of Black Hairy Tongue cannot always be identified, but it is believed to be due to a build-up of bacteria or yeast microorganisms. These accumulate on the papillae on the surface of the tongue. Normally the papillae shed, but when there is this excess of bacteria or yeast on them, it instead causes them to grow and elongate, which creates the hair-like projections. Unbelievably, these can grow to up to 15 times more than their usual length.

Why these bacteria and yeast accumulate could be for a number of reasons. Some of these are:
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excess coffee or tea drinking
  • Certain antibiotic use
  • Dehydration
  • Some medications
  • Decrease in saliva production
  • Mouthwash with certain ingredients
  • Radiotherapy
  • Soft diet

Poor oral hygiene is the number one cause of many disorders and diseases of the mouth and oral tissues. Regular brushing of the teeth and tongue can help to remove bacteria and yeast from the mouth. Mouthwashes are useful, although those that contain peroxide, menthol or witch hazel have been known to cause Black Hairy Tongue. Regular checkups and treatments by a dentist will not only keep your oral cavity healthy, but will also enable the dentist to pick up on any potentially developing problems.

Antibiotic usage may cause Black Hairy Tongue, but unfortunately the antibiotics are only prescribed when necessary and must be taken. If you are on a course of antibiotics it is a good idea to be extra vigilant about your mouth, and take extra care to regularly brush your teeth and tongue. Other medications can also increase the levels of microorganisms including those that contain the chemical Bismuth. This is generally seen in antacid preparations such as Pepto-Bismol.

Again, ensure your oral health practices are efficient and regular, particularly before you go to bed at night.

Hyposalivation is a condition where there is a decrease in the production of saliva. This can be due to a problem with the salivary glands or in cases of dehydration. Saliva is the body’s natural mouthwash, and is used to remove food particles and microorganisms, as well as stopping the mouth from drying out. If you have hyposalivation, you need to see your doctor or dentist to discuss potential causes and treatments.

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