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What is Black Hairy Tongue?

A black hairy tongue is a temporary and non-dangerous oral condition that gives the tongue a dark and furry look. This distinct appearance of the tongue generally occurs because of a buildup of dead skin cells on the various small projections (papillae) on the surface of the tongue containing taste buds. These papillae can trap and be stained by yeast, bacteria, food, tobacco, or other substances quite easily. A black hairy tongue might look disturbing, but it generally does not cause any health issues and is painless. Removing the possible causes or contributing factors and by following good oral hygiene can treat a black hairy tongue.

What are the Types of Black Hairy Tongue?

There are two main types of black hairy tongue, black hairy tongue, and pseudo-black hairy tongue, and each of them has a different cause.

– Black hairy tongue

Here a protein called keratin covers the skin of the tongue. Generally, when skin cells shed the keratin also she but a few times keratin might get accumulated on the tongue which can lead the tongue to look discoloured and black.

– Pseudo-black hairy tongue

Sometimes you might experience a pseudo-black hairy tongue. which refers to a black, furry tongue that occurs due to a fungal infection, a bacterial infection, or some other oral disease.

What are the Symptoms of Black Hairy Tongue?

The symptoms of black hairy tongue include:

– Black discoloration of the tongue, even though the colour might be tan, brown, yellow, green, or white

– A hairy appearance of the tongue

– Changed or metallic taste in your mouth

– Bad breath

– Gagging or tickling sensation

What are the Causes of Black Hairy Tongue?

The black hairy tongue usually occurs when projections on the tongue known as papillae grow longer due to not shedding dead skin cells like usual. It gives the tongue a hairy look. Debris, bacteria, or other organisms can collect on the papillae and cause discolouration of the tongue.

A black hairy tongue can also happen because of taking certain drinks or medications. It can also be a sign of dead skin cells accumulating on your tongue.

A black hairy tongue might seem alarming but it normally does not cause anything serious. You may feel that your tongue is looking a bit hairy but you shall know that they aren’t hairs but signs of a temporary condition we know as black hairy tongue.

Medical experts are not yet sure why the tongue stops shedding dead skin cells sometimes, but it might be connected to:

– Poor oral hygiene

The chances of dead skin cells getting accumulated on the tongue rise if you’re not brushing your teeth and tongue or rinsing your mouth regularly.

– Low saliva production.

Saliva helps swallow dead skin cells and if your mouth is not producing enough saliva, the dead skin cells accumulate on your tongue.

– Liquid diet

Having solid foods is helpful to scrape dead skin cells off your tongue and if you take a liquid diet, it doesn’t happen.

– Medication side effects

Some medications might cause dry mouth as a side effect making it easier for skin cells to accumulate on the papillae.

What are the Risk Factors of Black Hairy Tongue?

The risk factors of black hairy tongue include:

– Using antibiotics that cause changes in the usual yeast or bacteria content of the mouth

– Dry mouth also increases the risk of a black hairy tongue

– Using mouthwashes containing irritating oxidising agents, like peroxide regularly can also be a risk factor for a black hairy tongue

– Using tobacco

– Excessively drinking coffee or black tea

– Drinking alcohol

What are the Complications of a Black Hairy Tongue?

Complications of the black hairy tongue might include:

– Burning mouth syndrome

– Halitosis

– Nausea

– Gagging

– Dysgeusia

How Black Hairy Tongue is Diagnosed?

The black hairy tongue can be diagnosed based on appearance and possible causes or contributing factors. It might also include removing other conditions that might cause a similar appearance to the tongue, including:

– Usual variations in tongue colour

– Medications or food that stained the tongue

– Viral or fungal infections

– Oral lesions occurring on the tongue, like oral hairy leukoplakia

– Blackened tongue (pseudo-black hairy tongue) because of using products containing bismuth, like Pepto-Bismol

In some cases, your doctor might recommend a biopsy, where tissue is removed from your tongue and sent to the lab— if there’s any doubt regarding the diagnosis or concern that a black hairy tongue isn’t the only issue and there might be some other cause contributing to it.

What are the Treatment Options for Black Hairy Tongue?

The treatment of black hair tongue normally includes improving your oral hygiene at home and if that does not help, then your doctor might prescribe medications or recommend surgery in severe cases.

The treatment options for black hairy tongue generally include:

– Oral hygiene

If you developed a black hairy tongue, taking steps for improving your oral hygiene is the first thing you should do. You should regularly brush and floss your teeth two times a day and also make sure to clean your tongue using tongue cleaner or scraper.

– Medications

If the problem of a black hairy tongue persists after improving your oral hygiene, then antibiotics, antifungal medications, mouthwash, or retinoids (drugs related to vitamin A) are given to treat it.

– Surgery

If medications also do not work then traditional or laser surgery is an option to get rid of a black hairy tongue.

Living with Black Hairy Tongue

Black hairy tongue sounds and looks alarming but it is usually harmless and simple to treat. Taking proper oral care can be helpful to treat this condition and if after taking proper oral care, your problem is not solved you should visit your doctor, preferably a dentist who will detect what’s causing the condition and find ways to keep your tongue healthy and treat the black hairy tongue through medication.

Whom to Consult?

The black hairy tongue might seem unattractive, but it’s generally a temporary, harmless condition. If you developed a black hairy tongue and it persists even after taking proper oral care including brushing your teeth and tongue twice daily, then visit your doctor who will diagnose your problem and give treatment accordingly. Once you get to know the reason for your black hairy tongue, you can take steps to treat it and decrease the risk of it occurring again which mostly involves making simple lifestyle changes, like cleaning your tongue daily.

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