What’s that on your Tongue?

Black hairy tongue may sound like a terrible idea for a Halloween costume, but it is actually a harmless dental condition that can be alarming enough to send you running into your Walnut Creek dental office. At your dental visit, you will be relieved to find that the problem is typically seen when the bacteria in your mouth are allowed to accumulate on the surface of your tongue.

Your taste buds (known as papillae) can provide a perfect hiding place for millions of bacteria, some of which contain pigments from blood cells that can make the tongue appear black. Whereas the cells on the outer surface of the tongue should normally shed, the shedding process can sometimes be inhibited, resulting in longer, hairy-looking taste buds. The combination of darkly-pigmented bacterial colonies and overgrown taste buds is known as black hairy tongue.

The exact cause of black hairy tongue is not necessarily known, but there is research that explains the factors that would cause a change in your normal bacterial levels and the papillae on the surface of your tongue. The most common factors appear to be the use of certain antibiotics as well as products such as Pepto-Bismol which contains an ingredient known as bismuth. There also appears to be an increased risk for patients who use tobacco products, drink an excessive amount of coffee or tea, or fail to maintain a thorough oral hygiene regimen.

The risk for black hairy tongue also applies to patients who are using certain types of mouthwash. Take note of products that contain ingredients such as menthol, witch hazel, or full-strength peroxide.

For the best chance at avoiding this unattractive but harmless dental condition, be mindful of the previously mentioned risk factors and include tongue-brushing or scraping as part of your oral hygiene routine.

Black hairy tongue will generally resolve itself without further treatment, but you should bring the condition to the attention of your Walnut Creek dentist for observation. Call to schedule your appointment today.