Tongues consist mainly of muscles that are covered with small, raised bumps called papillae on the surface and sides of the tongue. When these papillae grow longer instead of shedding and start to trap food remnants and bacteria, it may lead to a black tongue, according to the Mayo Clinic. This results in the papillae taking on a fine, dark-textured appearance, leading to black hairy tongue syndrome which looks exactly as the name implies; the tongue center looks like it is covered with black hairs.
Causes of Tongue Discoloration
Most of the causes of this problem are fairly simple and easy to address. These include:
- Poor oral hygiene habits.
- Xerostomia, also known as or dry mouth, caused by insufficient production of saliva for effective oral cleansing purposes.
- Smoking, which can cause additional bacteria to thrive in the warm, moist environment.
- Eating or drinking mainly soft foods, which isn't helpful in the oral cleansing process.
- Use of antibiotics and other medications that promote the development of fungi, yeast and bacteria.
A black tongue is not contagious, according to a report in World Journal of Gastroenterology, and although not particularly desirable, it is a benign condition.
Treating a black, hairy tongue problem begins with a visit to your dental practitioner, so they can determine the state of your overall oral health. Black tongue syndrome itself doesn't cause any general health issues, but poor oral hygiene has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, respiratory infections and diabetic complications, so it's vital to resolve the problem as soon as possible.
Your dentist will likely recommend stepping up your daily brushing to between two and three times daily, using a toothbrush designed to clean the surface of the tongue. The Colgate 360° Total Advanced Powered toothbrush has a cheek and tongue cleaner, and removes four times more bacteria than the leading battery powered toothbrush for a whole-mouth clean. Brushing should be followed by flossing to remove any food residue remaining in your mouth that could cause plaque to develop.
Black tongue problems are not only reversible, but you can usually prevent them by taking some basic measures. Ask your dentist to assess your symptoms ofdry mouth and if necessary, they may recommend oral rinses or changes in your lifestyle to improve hydration. They might suggest changes to your diet, quitting smoking or trying new medications to avoid anything that affects the health and appearance of your tongue.
Don't panic if your tongue turns black. Just step up your oral health routine, and if it doesn't go away, see your dentist or doctor to find out what could be the cause of the problem.