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Why Is My Tongue Black?

Posted on August 12, 2021

It can be a startling moment — you look into your mirror in the morning and notice that the surface of your tongue is dark rather than pink and you think, “Why is my tongue black?” Stay calm. The good news is that black tongue is usually harmless and will resolve itself.

Why Is My Tongue Black?

Our tongues are composed of papillae, which are the little bumps on the surface of our tongue which help us to taste. Normally, the cells on the top of our tongue shed, and new fresh cells take their place.

On occasion, the cells don’t shed well. If the cells accumulate, a protein known as keratin becomes trapped on the surface. This buildup causes the papillae to enlarge, presenting as long, hairy growths. Food debris, bacteria and yeast get trapped in the growths and the tongue turns black. For this reason, the condition is known as black hairy tongue.

Symptoms of Black Hairy Tongue

The most obvious symptom of this condition is that the top of your tongue will look black. However, your tongue may also look green, brown, beige or yellow depending on what bacteria are trapped in the enlarged papillae.

You may also notice bad breath, a metallic taste in your mouth and even irritation or a gagging sensation caused by overgrown papillae in the back of your throat. The top of your tongue may look furry or hairy.

What Are The Causes Of Black Tongue?

Black tongue can be caused by extensive use of antibiotics, which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your mouth. Other medications that can cause the condition can include oral sprayed steroids and bismuth subsalicylate. Even mouthwashes with peroxide can contribute to black tongue.

Poor oral hygiene, such as failure to brush twice a day, floss at least once a day and gently scrape the tongue after each meal, can also be a culprit. If you have dry mouth, or xerostomia, more bacteria may accumulate on your tongue because there is less saliva flow. Diet can contribute to black tongue, too. If your diet is low in fiber, the cells on your tongue may be exfoliated less, leading to bacteria growth.

Some medical conditions can make you more susceptible to black tongue. If diabetes, HIV or other conditions weaken your immune system or if you are undergoing radiation therapy, you may be vulnerable. Trigeminal neuralgia affects the facial nerves and can be a risk factor as well.

Treatments for Black Tongue

You can take several steps to make black tongue go away faster. You can eat a high-fiber diet to remove dead skin cells from the top of your tongue. If the issue is caused by medication, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.

A dentist can use a dental laser to remove the hairy growths. They may also prescribe a topical retinoid to exfoliate the cells on your tongue’s surface.

How To Prevent Black Tongue

You can reduce the risk of black tongue by brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes and by using a tongue scraper or soft toothbrush to gently remove dead skin cells from the tongue after each meal. You can also place a small amount of baking soda on a toothbrush and use that to scrape your tongue. Using fluoride toothpaste and flossing before bedtime can also help.

Increasing moisture in your mouth is also beneficial. Drink plenty of water and chew gum with xylitol to increase saliva flow. You can further prevent dry mouth and black tongue by rinsing with salt water three times a day. You can create your own saltwater mixture by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water.

Schedule an Appointment at 209 NYC Dental

Having a black tongue can make you self-conscious, but it is usually temporary and harmless. If you have tried some of these tips but your tongue has been discolored for more than a week, come see us at 209 NYC Dental. With medication adjustment, removal of elongated papillae and other treatments, we can remedy your black tongue.

Schedule an appointment today by calling 212-355-2290.

About Dr. Benjamin Ahn

Meet Dr. Benjamin Ahn, a top-rated general, and cosmetic dentist and one of the best Invisalign dentist practicing at 209 NYC Dental, a multi-specialty dental practice in Midtown East Manhattan.

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