Black Hairy Tongue

Black, hairy tongue is a temporary, harmless, painless oral condition that gives your tongue a dark, furry appearance. While black, hairy tongue may look alarming, it does not cause any health problems. The condition usually results from an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. The hairy appearance is the result of projections on the tongue — called papillae — growing longer and failing to shed normally. Debris, bacteria or other organisms can collect on the papillae and result in black, yellow or brown discoloration.

Common causes:

  • Lack of saliva
  • Dehydration
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • Excessive coffee and/or tea consumption
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Changes in normal bacteria content of mouth following antibiotic use

Signs and symptoms:

  • Black, yellow or brown discoloration of the tongue
  • A hairy or furry appearance of the tongue
  • Altered or metallic taste in mouth
  • In severe cases, an increased urge to gag

Treatment options
Black, hairy tongue typically doesn’t require medical treatment, as practicing good oral hygiene and eliminating factors that contribute to the condition usually will help resolve the problem.

Cosmetic dentist Dr. Karent Sierra emphasizes the importance of brushing the tongue. “It’s not just about brushing your teeth,” Dr. Sierra says. “You remove all this bacteria from your teeth, and if you’re not [also brushing] your tongue, then don’t even bother brushing!”

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