Poor oral hygiene can lead to ‘black hairy tongue’ – expert reveals how to avoid it

Many of us take the initiative when it comes to good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing, as well as attending dental checkups, are key to keeping your teeth and mouth healthy. If these procedures are neglected, they can cause various problems, including one unusual sound.

Dr. Mani Bhardwaj, Clinical Director and Chief Dentist at Smile Studios Dental Group, has warned of a condition known as black hairy tongue.

Those affected will have what looks like a black coating on their tongue.

It can also lead to bad breath and a feeling of vomiting or a scratchy throat.

Although it looks strange, it is “harmless” and can be cured with proper oral and dental care.

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Dr. Bhardwaj explained: “A black hairy tongue looks intimidating – this condition is harmless and affects vision to a greater extent.

“It is mainly caused by bacteria and fungi that grow on the taste buds on the surface of the tongue, called papillae, especially in people with poor oral hygiene, immune deficiencies, smokers, or those taking selective antimicrobials.

“Bacteria and fungi begin to line the taste buds, and instead of falling out as usual, they begin to elongate and grow like hair-like projections on the surface of the tongue, which also discolor to a blackish, dark brown color, as opposed to the normally whitish pink .

“This condition is rarely accompanied by any symptoms, except when the fungus begins to affect the tongue, as in thrush.”

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The Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of a black hairy tongue as:

  • Blackening of the tongue, although the color may be brown, tan, green, yellow, or white.
  • Hairy or furry tongue
  • Altered taste or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Feeling of vomiting or tickling if the papillae are overgrown.

The clinic recommends seeing a doctor if you are concerned about the appearance of your tongue or if it “doesn’t go away” despite brushing your teeth and tongue twice a day.

In addition to poor oral hygiene, there are other potential causes of a black hairy tongue.

This may include changes in normal bacteria or yeast content in the mouth following the use of antibiotics.

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Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is another possible cause.

Another contributing factor is the regular use of mouth rinses containing irritating oxidizing agents such as peroxide.

Other reasons include:

  • tobacco use
  • Drinking too much coffee or black tea
  • Excessive drinking
  • Stick to a bland diet that does nothing to remove dead skin cells from the tongue.

How to treat a black hairy tongue

“This can usually be easily cured with good oral hygiene to eliminate any deficiency, as well as brushing the tongue once or twice a day to remove bacteria and fungi from the surface of the taste buds,” Dr. Bhardwaj said.

“However, in some cases, antifungal and antibacterial medications may be needed to correct this with the help of your dentists.”

To keep your teeth and mouth healthy overall, the NHS advises sticking to a regular regimen.

It includes:

  • Cleaning twice a day
  • Dental floss between teeth
  • Visits to dental offices.

He also recommends cutting back on sugar, not smoking, and limiting alcohol.

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