The black spots that appear on the tongue are called black hairy tongue. They are elongated papillae that contain keratin and appear darkened and elongated.
What causes black hairy tongue?
- Poor oral hygiene – Inadequate brushing or scraping of the tongue allows bacteria to proliferate. This causes the papillae to elongate and discolor.
- Smoking – Chemicals from smoking irritate the papillae and make them discolored.
- Drinking coffee/tea – These beverages can stain the elongated papillae.
- Medications – Antibiotics, antipsychotics, chemotherapy drugs can cause black hairy tongue.
- Radiation therapy – Treatment for neck and head cancers can cause changes in papillae.
- Medical conditions – HIV/AIDS, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies can be associated with the condition.
What are the symptoms?
- Dark furry appearance on the surface of the tongue
- Unpleasant breath
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Gagging or tickling sensation
Is black hairy tongue harmful?
Black hairy tongue is harmless and isn’t related to cancer. But it can be uncomfortable and unappealing. Proper oral hygiene helps get rid of the darkened papillae.
When to see a doctor
Consult your doctor if the condition doesn’t go away with brushing or scraping. Seek medical care if you have significant discomfort or if it’s interfering with swallowing or speech.
How can I prevent and treat it?
- Brush your teeth and tongue gently twice daily
- Use a tongue scraper daily
- Avoid smoking and limit tea/coffee
- Get any underlying condition treated
- See a dentist for a painless cauterization procedure if needed
Maintaining good oral hygiene is key to preventing and treating black hairy tongue. Proper brushing and scraping helps remove the discolored papillae.