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Why is my tongue black?

Nov 27, 2023Oral health

Why is my tongue black?

Our tongues consist of numerous papillae that are responsible for enabling us to taste. These tiny bumps on the surface of our tongue are instrumental in facilitating the sensation of flavor. The topmost layer of cells on our tongue continually sheds, thus giving way to new, fresh cells. This cyclical process ensures that our sense of taste remains unimpaired.

There are instances when cell shedding may not occur properly. As a result, the accumulation of protein called keratin gets trapped on the skin’s surface. This leads to the enlargement of papillae and the formation of elongated, hairy growths. The accumulation of food particles along with the presence of bacteria and yeast leads to the formation of growths on the tongue, ultimately giving it a blackish appearance. This condition is commonly referred to as black hairy tongue.


What Causes aTongue to be black?

The prevalence of black tongue is higher in older individuals, although the condition can manifest at any point in life. While the disorder may be slightly more prevalent in men than women, research suggests that smoking habits and oral hygiene practices have a stronger correlation with its development.

Inadequate oral care is frequently linked with black tongue, however, there are various other risk factors that can lead to this condition including:

  • Drinking a lot of coffee or tea
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Certain medications
  • Some mouthwashes
  • Dehydration
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Cancer
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Compromised immune system
  • Radiation therapy
  • Dry mouth

The prevalence of black hairy tongue is relatively higher among males, individuals who practice intravenous drug usage, and those who have contracted the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

There are specific medications that have been linked to black tongue, which include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Doxycycline
  • Penicillin
  • Tetracycline
  • Lansoprazole
  • Neomycin
  • Olanzapine
  • Erlotinib
  • Linezolid


What does a black tongue indicate?

It is often observed that a black hairy tongue develops due to the lack of proper oral hygiene. Nonetheless, in certain cases, it may manifest as a result of bacteria or fungi overgrowth, which calls for prompt medical attention. A healthcare expert can prescribe antifungal or antibiotic medicines, depending on the nature of the condition.


Black Hairy Tongue Treatments

Typically, the condition of black hairy tongue does not necessitate specific medicinal treatment. The good news is that this ailment can be alleviated by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Brush: As part of your everyday oral hygiene regimen, it is recommended that you gently brush your tongue with a toothbrush twice a day. For a more extensive cleaning of the tongue, make use of a distinctive tool like a tongue scraper.
  • Double Rinse: It is recommended to rinse your mouth with a solution consisting of one part hydrogen peroxide diluted with five parts water. Afterward, it is advisable to rinse again with plain water or change to a mouthwash without peroxide.
  • Avoid Tobacco Products: For the preservation of your oral hygiene and general well-being, it is highly recommended that you immediately refrain from utilizing tobacco-based products.

Ensuring proper oral hygiene, adopting a balanced diet, and incorporating new lifestyle habits can effectively address the issue of black hairy tongue. But if the discoloration of the tongue continues to persist, seeking the counsel of a dental expert for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is highly recommended.

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