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Black Hairy Tongue

Q: The other day while I was brushing my teeth, I saw something shocking. My tongue was brownish-black and furry! I scrubbed it like crazy and got most of it off, but it keeps coming back. I haven't been sick in ages, and I'm a nut about oral hygiene, in fact, I brush and use mouthwash several times a day. Why is this happening?

Dr. Donnica:
Oddly enough, your stellar oral health habits may be to blame for your tongue's fuzzy black appearance. There is actually a medical term for this condition: lingua villosa nigra. Frequent use of bacteria-killing mouthwashes can disrupt the natural balance of mouth flora, causing fungi or chromogenic (color-changing) bacteria to collect and form a dark coating. The good news is that the hairy appearance isn't really hair growth, it's extended growth of the papillae of the tongue that make it look hairy. Poor oral hygiene, taking antibiotics or antacids that contain bismuth (e.g. Pepto Bismol) can have the same effect, and habits such as smoking, chewing tobacco, or drinking lots of coffee or tea can actually stain the tongue.

To nix symptoms, discontinue using mouthwash for the time being, but keep brushing several times a day. Be sure to brush your tongue, using 5-15 strokes with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Diluted hydrogen peroxide (one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water) also may help bleach the color. You can rinse your mouth with it or apply it with a toothbrush. Avoid swallowing the solution. Rinse your mouth with water afterward. Another home remedy that may help is to cut a thin slice of fresh pineapple into eight segments. Slowly suck a segment on the back of the tongue for 40 seconds and then slowly chew it. Repeat this until the slice is finished. You might also try a tongue scraper (Den Tek is available at www.drugstore.com) to remove the dark stuff. Increasing your daily water consumption, dietary fiber, and fruits and veggies may also help. If your tongue's not back in the pink in a week, see your dentist who can prescribe antifungal medications to clear it up.

Created: 12/29/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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