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Black Spots on Tongue: Causes & Treatment Options

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The spots, patches and discoloration that tongues can develop may be harmless, but occasionally they're a sign of something serious. Black spots on tongue could range from tiny dots to conspicuous black areas, which look especially alarming. If you notice black dots, tell a dentist or physician about them and get a proper diagnosis.

Natural Appearance of Your Tongue

Though it might be the first time you noticed the black spots on your tongue, they could be part of your tongue's natural appearance. The human tongue is a muscle covered in taste buds. It moves food around the mouth as you chew, and the taste buds send the brain signals about flavour. Taste buds are visible to the human eye and they can stand out and look like dark spots when something like red wine or coffee stains them.

Alternatively, black spots on tongue could be a condition called hyperpigmentation, according to a case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Pigmentation is what gives skin, hair and eyes their colour, and excessive concentration of pigment in the tongue can result in harmless dark patches or spots, sometimes as a result of chemotherapy. In the case of hyperpigmentation and chemotherapy, the black spots usually clear up a few weeks after the treatment stops.

Injury and your Tongue

Oral piercings and tongue injuries may result in black spots. My Health Alberta, explains that damage to the tongue or injury can leave a sore. If you've had an oral piercing recently or bitten, cut or otherwise injured your tongue, a black spot could be a lingering sign of damage.

Chemical Exposure to your Tongue

Certain chemicals react with acids on the surface of the tongue and turn it black. Exposure to the chemical bismuth, which is an ingredient in some medications, may cause the colour change, notes Merck Manuals. Though it's often the entire tongue that turns black, the change could initially occur in patches. Once you stop taking bismuth, your tongue should return to its normal pink hue.

Tongue Cancer

Rarely, dark patches on the tongue are a sign of a serious condition like cancer. The dark spots may also appear as scabs or sores that don't heal. Other signs of tongue cancer include lumps, swelling and problems with swallowing. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. Though tongue cancer is a serious disease, treatment is most effective when it begins in the early stages of the disease.

If the spots are gray, they could be a medical condition called leukoplakia, which is sometimes precancerous.

Treating Black Spots on Tongue

The first step in trying to remove black spots on the tongue is improving oral hygiene. Brush your tongue when you brush your teeth. Consider a toothbrush with a cheek and tongue cleaner to help remove odour causing bacteria.

If the spots disappear after brushing, they may not need any further treatment. However, if the spots remain, go see your dentist for a check-up. They can determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.

Black spots on tongue can be worrying. Though the spots, marks or patches are harmless in some cases, only a dentist or physician can make an accurate diagnosis about their cause. Book an appointment if you have black spots that don't go away or are accompanied by other symptoms like lumps or swellings.