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.