It’s a Sunday morning and you wake up with lots of plans. You wish to start the day with the regular morning chore activities and open your mouth to brush. You witness the shock of your life as you see your tongue enveloped by a black coating that looks hairy. While the description sounds sneaky and scary, actually the scenario is quite harmless. This is what we call as ‘black, hairy tongue’ that is used to describe an abnormal black layer that covers the surface of your tongue. This is common when there is bacterial/fungi growth, abrasion or lack of stimulation (decreased saliva) in the tongue.
Why So Hairy?
The tongue comprises of hairy particles due to the buildup of a protein called keratin (this is the same one that nourishes your hair on the head too). In general, the tongue is covered with conical shaped projections called papillae that grow 1 millimeter in length and shed away normally in sometime. But in this case, the papillae start to lengthen, even growing up to 15 millimetre sometimes. When the papillae don’t shed it paves way for accumulation of food, bacteria and yeast too on the tongue surface making the tongue appear in different colors from white, pink and brown to green and black depending on the food you eat. Despite these color variations we call it ‘black hairy tongue’ because it is black in color most of the time due to bacteria and yeast accumulation.
There are several lifestyle factors and food habits that can lead to this condition and these include:
Except for the black hairs people don’t experience any other profound symptoms. Sometimes, some people might feel a burning sensation due to excess bacterial or yeast accumulation, some might feel a ticklish sensation on the roof of the mouth while swallowing food. Few others might suffer from bad breath or metallic taste as food might get entangled between the long papillae. While other symptoms might be present or absent, a physician can make a diagnosis based on clinical appearance.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to treat this condition. Brush your teeth twice a day and ensure to clean your tongue thoroughly using your toothbrush or a tongue cleaner. Try drinking as much water as possible and do eat all types of foods. Restricting your diet to soft foods don’t do any good as they don’t clean the tongue. Despite these measures, if the hairy layer still remains it is better to consult a physician. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to solve your problem. Rarely when none of these works, the papillae might require surgical removal.
To avoid problems in the first place, brush the top of the tongue daily when you brush your teeth. Make it a regular part of your routine oral care though some individuals might feel like throwing up while doing this. A person once affected by hairy tongue is at a greater risk of suffering repeatedly from the disease. It is better to remember that oral health gives the right insight into a person’s overall health. There are several studies supporting this, details of which are available in the website www.firsteatright.com. Take good care of your mouth to live a healthy life.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.