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Black Hairy Tongue

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space placeholder.What Is It?.
space placeholder.Symptoms.
space placeholder.Diagnosis.
space placeholder.Expected Duration.
space placeholder.Prevention.
space placeholder.Treatment.
space placeholder.When to Call a Professional.
space placeholder.Prognosis .
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space placeholder.What Is It?
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The surface of your tongue is covered with hundreds of tiny raised areas that are thin and pointed. They are called papillae. Your taste buds are scattered among them. The papillae grow constantly. Normally, the top layer of cells wears away. In some people, these cells do not wear away. The papillae grow unusually long.

When this occurs, the papillae easily trap normal debris, bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast multiply, producing a dark or "black" area on the tongue. It's called black hairy tongue because the overgrown papillae look hairy or furry.

This condition is not cancer. It's also not an infection. It's something like moss growing on a rock.

The cause of black hairy tongue is not known. It's not common in healthy people. When it does occur in healthy people, it's mild.

However, some people have a higher risk of developing the condition. Not taking good care of your teeth and gums is by far the most common cause of black hairy tongue. You also have a higher risk if you:

  • Smoke
  • Drink coffee or tea
  • Take some types of antibiotics (which can upset the balance of bacteria in your mouth)
  • Receive chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for head and neck cancer
  • Have nerve pain in the face caused by trigeminal neuralgia
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes or other conditions that affect the entire body
  • Take medicines that contain bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol for upset stomach)
  • Use mouthwash that contains peroxide, witch hazel or menthol
  • Have reduced saliva flow
  • Are HIV positive
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space placeholder.Symptoms
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Bad breath (halitosis) is one symptom of black hairy tongue. Some people report a burning sensation when black hairy tongue is caused by a yeast infection, Candida albicans.

The obvious sign of black hairy tongue is a coating of debris and bacteria or yeast on the tongue. The coating is usually in the middle to back of the tongue. It can be green, brown, black, white or yellow.The sides and tip of the tongue are rarely involved.

Black hairy tongue is painless.Some people may experience a metallic taste or nausea.

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space placeholder.Diagnosis
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Your dentist or physician will ask about your medical and dental history. He or she also will ask about:
  • Smoking
  • Recent use of antibiotics
  • Brushing and flossing habits
  • Use of mouthwash or alcohol

In most cases, your dentist or doctor can easily diagnose black hairy tongue based on how your tongue looks and the information you supply.

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space placeholder.Expected Duration
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With treatment, the condition should disappear in about two weeks.

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space placeholder.Prevention
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Good oral hygiene is critical to help prevent black hairy tongue. Brushing your tongue will wear away the papillae and prevent them from growing too much. It also can help to freshen your breath. Not smoking also helps to prevent black hairy tongue.

If you have a disease such as diabetes, see your doctor regularly to keep it under control.

Brushing and flossing are important during chemotherapy and radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. During your treatment, visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist will look for any conditions or infections in your mouth that may be linked to your cancer treatment.

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space placeholder.Treatment
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The common treatment for black hairy tongue is simply to brush your tongue whenever you brush your teeth. Do this at least twice a day.

For severe cases, your dentist may recommend using a tongue scraper twice a day. It should be dampened with Dakin's solution. This is a very diluted bleach solution that kills the bacteria. Salicylic acid or topical retinoids are also sometimes prescribed. If the condition does not respond to these treatments, the papillae can be clipped with a device that uses a laser or electric current.

If taking antibiotics helped the condition to get started, stopping them will help it go away. If the cause is found to be Candida albicans, your dentist will prescribe an antifungal rinse.

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space placeholder.When to Call a Professional
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Call your dentist if you notice any color change in your tongue that lasts more than a few days. You also should call if you notice any changes in the texture of your tongue.

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space placeholder.Prognosis
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The outlook for black hairy tongue is excellent. The condition is treated easily and it doesn't cause other problems.

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