Hairy tongue is a condition where you observe peeling of the threadlike papillae on your tongue. This condition is commonly referred to as black hairy tongue; however, it is not always black in color. It could appear in brown, pink, white or green and this depends on the specific reason for this appearance and also other factors like use of breath mints, color mouthwashes, candies etc.
This disorder occurs in 8.3% of children and 57% of young adults living in United States. This appears more often in men than women. Persons, who use tobacco, drink coffee and tea heavily, HIV patients and persons using intravenous drugs are also susceptible for getting hairy tongue.
Symptoms Of Black Hairy Tongue
The symptoms of black hairy tongue are as follows:
Bad breath/ halitosis
Choking sensation in certain persons
Tongue discoloration – tongue appears black, yellow or brown in color
Tongue appearance – furry or hairy
Taste – mouth has an altered or metallic
Since this condition causes no harm and temporary you need not seek medical help unless you are perturbed by the visual appearance or this condition persists for a longer period.
Causes Of Black Hairy Tongue
The surface of your tongue contains a large of number of small, finger-like projections called papillae and your taste buds are located among these bumps. The growth of papillae occurs continuously and at the same time there will be wearing out of top layers of your tongue. In certain people this wearing out of the cells does not occur thereby displaying elongated papillae.
The elongated papillae trap normal debris, bacteria and other organisms and as the bacteria multiply it produces a dark black, yellow or brown area on your tongue. The elongated papillae with this black color look hairy or furry. This condition is neither an infection nor a cancer and this can be compared to a moss growing on a rock. This condition normally does not occur on people who are healthy.
Hairy tongue occurs because of the hypertrophy of filiform papillae on the upper surface of the tongue; the reason for this is the lack of mechanical stimulation as well as debridement. People with poor oral hygiene – insufficient tooth brushing, diet with soft food without any roughage are likely to be affected by this. If the food contains roughage it could mechanically abrade the upper surface of the tongue.
The reason for developing black hairy tongue can not be easily determined. However the following are the causes that trigger development of this condition.
Breathing through your mouth
Diabetics with uncontrolled glucose level
Heavy smoking / tobacco use
Heavy drinking of coffee and tea
Persons getting chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment for neck and head cancer
Poor oral hygiene
Taking certain antibiotics that changes the bacteria balance in your mouth
Using mouthwashes containing oxidizing agents regularly
Treatment Of Black Hairy Tongue
Black hairy tongue is a temporary phenomenon and normally does not warrant any medical treatment. It is harmless but unattractive. If you practice good oral hygiene and avoid factors such as smoking/ tobacco usage, medications containing bismuth etc. will prevent occurrence of black hairy tongue. However this requires your doctor’s approval.
Treating hairy tongue depends on the condition. In most of the cases the elongated filiform papillae can be removed by properly brushing the tongue with a toothbrush or scraping the tongue with a tongue scraper. This will also reduce the growth of the additional papillae.
Patients who take soft diet continuously might develop hairy tongue because the soft diet does not debride the upper surface of the tongue while eating or swallowing. In such cases the patient should include in his diet more roughage; otherwise brushing or scraping of the tongue will be the best solution.
In extreme cases surgical removal of the papillae may be required. This is performed using carbon dioxide laser, electro-desiccation and sometimes scissors.
Hairy tongue could result in an occasional candidal overgrowth and this could lead to an uncomfortable burning tongue. On rare occasions the taste sensation is altered.
The occurrence of black hairy tongue can be prevented by following good oral health practices such as brushing, flossing, tongue brushing, tongue scraping and professional cleaning.