A black, hairy tongue might seem inconceivable, but this benign, self-limiting condition can occur at a prevalence of between .15 to 11 percent, depending on the population considered, according to an April 2008 article in the "Canadian Medical Association Journal." Although there's no definitive cause of hair growing in the mouth, it's associated with certain risk factors and expediently resolved, usually without the need for medical intervention.
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Black, hairy tongue, known in medical terms as lingua villosa nigra, presents as a curious black, yellow or brown coating on the top of your tongue that might look furry or hairy, according to the Mayo Clinic. The tips and sides of your tongue generally appear unaffected. Along with being aesthetically displeasing, you might also notice a metallic taste in your mouth and experience bad breath. Some people experience a heightened gag reflex.
The hair that you see is an illusion when the tiny projections on your tongue, papillae, become elongated and don't shed on a normal time-table. Papillae gather bacteria, yeast, debris and other organisms, accounting for the unusual color, states the Mayo Clinic. Factors associated with black, hairy tongue include smoking and other tobacco use, poor oral hygiene, mouth breathing, oral medications that contain bismuth, mouth rinses that contain peroxide, witch hazel or menthol and cranial radiation therapy. According to the "Canadian Medical Association Journal," age is another factor, most likely due to many years of smoking and drinking coffee.
According to Skinsight.com, hairy tongue may resolve by brushing your tongue gently twice and day, rinsing with one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water, and following up with a final rinse of plain water. The Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding factors known to contribute to hairy tongue, such as smoking and using medications that contain bismuth. However, don't discontinue a medication your doctor or dentist has recommended or prescribed without talking to him first.
Hairy tongue generally resolves with self-care; however, more troublesome cases may require use of antifungals, retinoids and mouthwashes, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. When all else fails, medical treatment may include clipping or removing the papillae using laser treatments or electrodesiccation.
Prevent black, hairy tongue by using good oral hygiene every day. The Mayo Clinic advises brushing your teeth at least once a day—and if possible after every meal—using soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Make sure to brush your tongue with your toothbrush or use a tongue scraper. Floss daily to remove small particles of debris that get caught between your teeth. See your dentist routinely for cleanings and oral examinations so you can nip problems in the bud.