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:
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.
In most cases, your dentist or doctor can easily diagnose black hairy tongue based on how your tongue looks and the information you supply.
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.
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. Grocery stores and drugstores sell tongue scrapers over the counter.
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.