Just the sound of it makes you shiver. It's like straight out of a horror film. However, black hairy tongue does exist in real life. And although it sounds scary, the good news is that it's harmless. This condition is caused by bacteria or fungi inside the mouth that make the tongue appear black and hairy.
Why does the tongue look black and hairy?
When there is too much bacteria or yeast inside the mouth, they build up on the papillae. These are tiny round projections that lie on the surface of the tongue. These projections usually shed, but when they don't and they start to grow, they look like hair. They can grow 15 times more than their usual length. They are supposed to be pinkish-white but pigments from the food and drinks that you consume as well as from the bacteria can change the color to black. That's where the condition got its name. You should know that the tongue can also appear to be other colors like brown, yellow or green but it's still called black hairy tongue.
What are the causes of this condition?
Poor lifestyle habits and medical conditions can increase the risk of black hairy tongue. These include:
- dry mouth
- smoking tobacco
- poor dental hygiene
- radiation therapy to the head and neck
- excessive consumption of coffee or tea
- Use of antibiotics that can interfere with the proper balance of bacteria inside the mouth as well as taking medications that contain chemical called bismuth can also bring about this condition.
- People who are HIV positive and who use intravenous drugs are also more prone to this.
- On top of that, if you regularly rinse your mouth with mouthwashes that have peroxide, menthol, or witch hazel, you're also more likely to get this problem.
What are its symptoms apart from the black and hairy tongue?
Most people with this condition don't experience any other symptom. They don't feel any pain or discomfort. That is, unless there is excessive growth of yeast that can bring burning sensation on the tongue called glossopyrosis. There are also some cases wherein people would complain about the ticklish feeling in the back of the mouth roof. Gagging, having metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, and bad breath are other things that people with black hairy tongue experience.
Can this be treated?
Fortunately, yes. And the best way to do that is to improve your dental hygiene.
- Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day using a soft bristled toothbrush.
- You may also use a tongue scraper to gently clean your tongue to ensure that no food debris accumulates here.
- It would also help to drink lots of water to keep the mouth clean.
- Other than these, you should also quit smoking. Doing this will not only help reduce the appearance of black hairy tongue but also improve your overall health.
- Adding more fiber to your diet is also a good move.
- If things don't improve after you've done all these, call your dentist or doctor, who may prescribe antifungal drugs or antibiotic to inhibit the growth of bacteria and yeast.