Black tongue causes, symptoms, and treatment

By: Mohan Garikiparithi | Oral Care | Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 03:30 PM

black hairy tongueA black tongue can have you running for the hills, but you may not need to head to an emergency room so quickly. In fact, a black tongue isn’t necessarily always a cause for concern, so let’s look at the possible causes for a black tongue so you have a better understanding of the condition.

The key to distinguishing the cause of your black tongue is to consider other accompanying factors such as odor, fuzziness of the tongue, or a metal taste. Paying close attention to these accompanying factors can help you narrow down on the cause and help you decide what mode of treatment you need to resolve your issue.

Is black hairy tongue contagious?

The good news is, a black hairy tongue is not contagious or infectious. It is important to keep in mind though that bacteria on the tongue, which may be what’s causing it to appear black and hairy, can be contagious if you share food or beverages or swap spit with someone.

Black hairy tongue symptoms

Black hairy tongue symptoms include black discoloration of the tongue, a hairy or furry appearance, change in taste buds, metal taste, bad breath, and gagging or tickling sensation in case of excessive papillae overgrowth.

What causes black hairy tongue?

tongueThe typical cause of black hairy tongue is an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. The bacteria builds up on the tongue’s papillae, causing them to grow and lengthen, hence the hairy appearance. Bacteria growth can cause papillae to grow 15 times their normal size.

Normally, papillae are pinkish or white, but food, beverages, bacteria, and yeast causes them to change color.

Other causes of a black tongue include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Smoking
  • Drinking a lot of coffee or tea
  • Antibiotics
  • Dehydration
  • Medications containing bismuth
  • Lack of saliva
  • Mouthwash that contains peroxide, witch hazel, or menthol
  • Radioactive therapy of the head and neck

As you can see, there are many harmless causes for a black tongue, meaning you can easily get your tongue looking pink once again by making the necessary lifestyle adjustments.

How to get rid of black hairy tongue?

Proper diagnosis of a black tongue is to rule out other conditions that could cause the tongue to appear black. These factors include poor hygiene, foods, or medications that could stain the tongue, fungal or viral infections, and inflammation of the lining of the mouth. Once your doctor has determined the cause of your black tongue, they can advise effective treatment methods to resolve the issue.

You may find that for many of the black tongue causes, simple lifestyle changes can aid in returning to the healthy status quo. Below are those common lifestyle changes that can help you recover.

Quitting smoking most successful with ‘cold turkey’ methodBlack tongue lifestyle changes

  • Proper oral hygiene: brush regularly, floss regularly, avoid mouthwashes with peroxide, witch hazel, and menthol, use a tongue scraper.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Increase your fiber intake.
  • See your dentist on a regular basis.

If your black tongue persists even after making these lifestyle adjustments, you will have to see your doctor or dentist for further examination, as you may require antibiotics or antifungal medications to kill off bacteria and yeast.


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