Why Is My Tongue Black?

man brushing his tongue

A black tongue can be unsightly and alarming, but it's nothing to be afraid of.

It's temporary, and it isn't serious. But, early diagnosis is essential to keep it from progressing. An oral examination will help identify the cause of the problem.

Let's talk about black tongue, its potential causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is a black tongue?

The tongue is filled with tiny, raised bumps called papillae. Most types of papillae are home to the taste buds, which allow us to distinguish taste and flavour.

Papillae cells regenerate continuously. They look longer when dead skin cells build up at their tips instead of shedding.

The elongated papillae are vulnerable to staining. Bacteria and deposits can get stuck in them, resulting in a hairy looking, discoloured tongue.

What are black tongue symptoms?

Symptoms of black tongue include the following:

  • Tongue discolouration
  • Furry appearance
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Bad breath
  • Gagging sensation
  • Nausea

What are the potential causes of black tongue?

The exact causes of a black hairy tongue are still unknown, but the following can contribute to it:

  • Poor oral hygiene. Dead cells are more likely to collect on tongue surfaces without good oral hygiene.
  • Tobacco use. Tobacco can leave stains on the papillae and make the tongue appear darker.
  • Excessive consumption of coffee and tea. Coffee and tea can also cause tongue discolouration, especially among heavy drinkers.
  • Dry mouth. Reduced saliva production can cause dead skin cells to linger long on the tongue.
  • Certain medications. Some medications can leave the mouth dry and cause dead skin cells to build up.
  • Soft food diet. A solid diet helps clean the tongue. A liquid or soft food diet won’t be able to help dislodge debris on the tongue.
  • Using mouthwashes with oxidizing agents, such as peroxide. Some types of mouthwash can reduce microbe diversity or cause imbalance of bacteria.
  • How is black tongue treated?
  • A black tongue can clear on its own with the help of good oral hygiene habits.

    • Brushing the tongue will help get rid of dead skin cells and stains.
    • Using a tongue scraper may also prevent the buildup of deposits.
    • You can also talk to your physician about changing your prescription or adjusting your dosage, if you feel that your medications are causing the discolouration.
    • Drinking plenty of water can increase saliva production and help dislodge dead skin cells on the tongue.
    • Regular dental hygiene appointments will also help keep the mouth free of stubborn debris and stains.

    Undergoing surgery may be necessary if other options don’t work or aren’t enough. Your dentist or doctor can remove the elongated papillae through a clipping procedure or carbon dioxide laser application.

    Can a black tongue be avoided?

    You can prevent a hairy tongue by taking precautionary measures.

    If you’ve had black tongue before, your dentist can help identify its cause and keep it from resurfacing.

    It also helps to address potential risk factors, such as dry mouth and smoking. Making lifestyle changes can keep you from developing a black tongue.

    You and your dentist may use trial and error to identify which treatment or prevention method works best.

    Boosting your oral hygiene routine and seeing your dental team regularly will help keep black tongue away for good.

    When should you contact your dentist in Kanata, ON?

    A hairy black tongue can cause you to panic, but it’s not a dental or medical emergency.

    However, contact your dentist or primary health care provider if the symptoms persist even after strengthening your oral hygiene routine. Be on the lookout as well for other dental problems, including the following:

    • Gum pain
    • Swelling
    • Tooth damage
    • Mouth infection

    Black tongue can be treated from home. But a stubborn case may be a sign of something more serious. If you’re concerned about irregularities in your tongue or mouth, we recommend seeing the dentist immediately.

    Contact us today to book an oral exam if you’re in Kanata, ON. Our team is happy to assist you.