This month we’re addressing a hairy problem – black hairy tongue.
Black hairy tongue might sound like something we’ve just made up, but in fact, it’s real. It’s the term used to describe a condition where the tongue temporarily turns black due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. Although the problem sounds scary, it’s actually harmless (although it might harm your dating chances).
In this post, we’ll cover black hairy tongue in more detail, paying particular attention to the causes and treatment.
What is black hairy tongue?
We all have bacteria in our mouths, and normally we can keep them in check with a good oral hygiene routine, such as brushing our teeth twice a day. However, when the bacteria grow out of control, problems can occur.
This is the case with black hairy tongue. It’s caused when bacteria on the tongue grow out of control. The bacteria build on the papillae on the tongue, which are the small bumps on the top of the tongue.
Normally, papillae fall off when they get too long (about a millimetre in length), but when there are too much bacteria on your tongue, the papillae just keep growing. The papillae can grow as long as three-quarters of an inch, which is around fifteen times their normal length. This can make the tongue look ‘hairy’, even though it’s not actually hair but the papillae.
What about the black part? Well, normally your papillae are a pinkish-white colour. However, when they grow too long, they can tend to get stuff trapped in them, such as pigments from foods and drinks. This can cause your tongue to become dyed black. However, other colours can occur too, such as yellow and green.
What are the risk factors for black hairy tongue?
Various risk factors for black hairy tongue are suspected. These include:
- A poor oral hygiene routine (failing to brush often enough, for example)
- Drinking a lot of coffee or tea
- Dehydration from not drinking enough water
- Antibiotics, because they can alter the flora of bacteria in your mouth.
- Excessive use of mouthwashes that contain astringents (such as witch hazel or menthol)
Is black hairy tongue harmful?
No, black hairy tongue is a harmless condition and it doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, it usually causes no other symptoms than a change in the tongue’s appearance. Sometimes however it has been known to cause strange tastes in the mouth and bad breath.
What is the treatment for black hairy tongue?
Luckily, the treatment for black hairy tongue is quite simple. All you have to do is follow these two easy steps:
- Brush your tongue twice a day with your toothbrush as part of your brushing routine. It’s a good idea to keep doing this even after your tongue is back to normal because it can prevent the problem from happening again.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water and then rinse again with plain water. Do this a few times day.
Finally, if your problem remains stubborn and won’t go away, make sure to book an appointment with your dentist.