Why Is My Tongue Black?

Imagine your shock if you looked at your face in the mirror tomorrow and discovered your tongue was black! It sounds outrageous, but it actually happens to lots of patients each year. Estimates say that 200,000 Americans have this unusual condition at some time.

There isn’t one single answer if you’re questioning why your tongue is black. There are various causes for the issue. Sometimes the black will fade, and it may appear brown or yellow. It can be fuzzy or furry, and accompanied by bad breath. Some people with a black tongue also complain of a metallic taste in the mouth.

A dark tongue is certainly alarming, but the condition is usually pretty easy to remedy. Physicians have experience in dealing with this embarrassing and strange problem. Below, I’ll give you answers to the question “Why is my tongue black?” and how you can return it to a pink one.

It’s natural to be worried if you suddenly have a black hairy tongue, but it’s not something you need to worry a lot about. It is usually associated with a bacterium or fungus that isn’t hard to treat.

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Why Is My Tongue Black?

A black tongue is usually caused by a bacteria or yeast growth in the oral cavity. The papillae (round things) on the tongue can be subject to a build-up of yeast or bacteria. These usually slough off without help, but sometimes they grow bigger and make your tongue look furry. They can even get 15 times bigger than they usually are, which makes the tongue look fuzzy.

Overgrown papillae do not usually hurt, but sometimes they may give you a stinging or burning feeling. That problem is generally linked to yeast infections. The fuzz on your tongue may cause you to gag, or tickle the top of your mouth whenever you swallow. The bacteria accumulating in the mouth may also lead to bad breath.

Papillae are typically pinkish or whitish in color, but when you drink or eat various things, it can turn them different colors. Yeast can cause them to appear yellow, and coffee may cause them to look brown. Eating foods with dye in them, like cake frosting, can turn your tongue different colors, too. If you eat too much sugar, though, it can cause the growth of yeast on your tongue.

In addition to the causes above, the broad answer to the question “Why is my tongue black?” can lay in health issues or your lifestyle choices. These include:

  • Smoking cigars or cigarettes
  • Not cleaning your mouth or brushing your teeth well
  • Mouthwash ingredients like witch hazel or peroxide
  • Radiation for cancer in the areas of the head or neck
  • Lack of saliva
  • Excessive drinking of coffee or black tea
  • Salivary gland conditions
  • Dehydration and inadequate intake of fluids
  • Antibiotics that cause an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth
  • Injected illicit drugs
  • Medications containing Bismuth (like Pepto Bismol®)
  • Gender – It is seen in men more often than in women
  • HIV

A Quick Word on Using Pepto Bismol® or similar products and Black Tongue

Some types of medications made for issues in the stomach use bismuth subsalicylate. This can turn your tongue black for a matter of hours or even days after you use it. The ingredient is used in other drugs made for nausea, diarrhea, indigestion and heartburn. It is used in treating H. pylori bacterial stomach infections, too.

These medications should be taken with a drink of water. If you skip the water, the medication is more likely to turn your tongue black. Chewable tablets cause the issue more often than liquid. People have reported black tongue for days after they take one of these medications.

What can you do about Black Hairy Tongue?

Now that you’ve learned the answer to the question “Why is my tongue black,” you’ll be eager to learn how to get it back to its normal color. Here are some easy tips that will help.

  1. Get Medical Treatment

If you have a black tongue for a week or longer and it doesn’t clear up itself, or with home treatment, you will want to see your dentist or a physician to clear it up. Antibiotics may help, or treatment for yeast infections. Physicians may use retin-A to aid in fading the black color. The fuzzy growth can be removed with lasers or electro-surgery.

  1. Begin a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

If you smoke, quit. Or at least cut down. If you have tried to quit and cannot, at least don’t smoke as much while your tongue is black.

Increase the roughage and fiber in your diet. Eat high fiber foods like vegetables and salads. These foods will clean your tongue as you’re eating them.

See a dentist regularly. Keep your teeth and mouth clean, and have them checked regularly. If you find any problem areas within the mouth, consult your dentist. In this way, they can be caught early and treated, before they lead to infection.

  1. Practice Better Oral Care

If you do a better job of cleaning your mouth every day, you won’t likely experience black tongue. If you do develop a black tongue, brush and use mouthwash even more than the two times a day you should keep to on a regular basis.

Using a softer toothbrush may help you to keep up with brushing your teeth two times a day or more. Brush after every meal, if it can be worked into your daily schedule. Use a brand of toothpaste that includes fluoride, which helps in killing bacteria.

Floss your teeth often. At least twice a day is best, and using floss even more often will help to keep down the bacteria levels in the mouth.

Be sure to pay special attention to the tongue. If your tongue doesn’t hurt, use a tongue scraper to keep the tongue extra clean. Cleaning the tongue helps to remove bacteria growth, food particles and dead cells.

Swish your mouth with plain water often and drink more water throughout the day. If you can’t brush your teeth after every meal, swish your mouth with water then, too.

Rinse your mouth daily with warm salt water. Use one cup of water and dissolve about half a teaspoon of salt in it. Swish well and then spit it out. Be sure you don’t swallow it.


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