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Home > Dental Conditions > Mouth Problems > Black Hairy Tongue and Other Twists
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Black Hairy Tongue & Other Twists

Hairy Tongue - Black tongue is casued by bad oral hygiene and mouth breathing.

For most of us, it's pink, wet and flexible - a sign of good health. Every now and then though, this food moving, taste testing, friend taunting, lover teasing, speaking tool goes a little haywire. So if you wake up one morning with hairy tongue, don't panic. The sight may send your friends running for refuge, but black tongue usually challenges your physical attraction not your physical health. White, yellow, brown, green or black tongues fall into the same category - these are all surface problems, for the most part.

Here's how hairy tongue happens: The muscles, nerves and vessels that make up your lingual organ are covered in a mucus membrane. Papillae, or small bumps around your taste buds, sprout on the top of your tongue, especially towards the back.

Usually, the bumps grind away with normal wear and tear in your mouth. Other times papillae grow longer, like the locks of your favorite 80s hair band. And like rock-n-roll, your hairy tongue goes through phases, some more embarrassing than others. That's when the funky, oversized papillae start picking up bacterial groupies from tobacco, food particles and medications.

Note: Whitish or yellow growths sometimes indicate a thrush infection of the mucus membrane (instead of furry tongue), also not serious. But oral thrush spreads when untreated - and that can become serious - so make sure you know the difference between thrush and hairy tongue.

Back to the Black Tongue Attack

As your hair-like papillae grow longer, they absorb mossy colors. Black tongue comes from bad oral hygiene and mouth breathing as well as the previously mentioned food, tobacco and medications. Also watch out for too much damage from certain mouthwashes, peroxide, astringents, witch hazel or menthol in your oral care products.

If you suffer from furry tongue, you'll recognize it by the accompanying halitosis, metallic or changed tastes, tongue discolorations and possibly a gagging sensation. And let's not forget the "hair" part of hairy tongue, of course!

Attacking Tongue Black Back

So how do you combat black tongue and regain your social confidence? Like a bad haircut, you fight back by trying different grooming or other techniques.

  • Brush that hair away. Brush your teeth at least twice per day or after every meal while you have hairy tongue. Brush your tongue too - gently, to remove food, bacteria and dead cells.
  • Floss daily. This also clears food debris and reduces bacteria.
  • Play the waiting game. If taking prescription meds like antibiotics, you should follow your doctor's or pharmacist's instructions. Unfortunately that may mean letting furry tongue flourish for a while.
  • Scrape up the scum. Buy a tongue scraper from just about any drug or grocery store, and gently scrape your hairy or black tongue as needed. Have hairy tongue that gets a five o'clock shadow? Break out your tongue scraper again.
  • Breathe through your nose. Mouth breathers tend to suffer from xerostomia, or dry mouth. It's a bad way to breathe because saliva washes away food particles and bacteria - the very stuff that encourages papillae to grow. You might be able to suppress furry tongue outbreaks by changing your breathing and/or sleeping habits or by drinking more water. (If you have chronic dry mouth, see your dentist. Xerostomia causes tooth decay and gum disease as well as black tongue.)

When Hairy Tongue Gets Hairier

As we said earlier, hairy tongue or furry tongue generally needs no professional remedies. However, if you notice a change in the texture of your tongue, or hair or discoloration that lasts longer than 10 days, call your dentist. You might need treatment for dry mouth or dental cleanings and repairs, along with a better solution for your black tongue.

Or call us at 1-866-970-0441 and we'll help find a great dentist near you.

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