Bad oral hygiene could lead to ‘black hairy tongue’ – expert
Dr Alex George reveals best time to brush your teeth
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Many of us are proactive when it comes to good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing, as well as attending dental check-ups are key to keeping our teeth and mouths healthy. If these routines are neglected, they can cause various problems, including one unusual sounding condition.
Doctor Mani Bhardwaj, clinical director and principal dentist at the Smile Studios Dental Group, warned of a condition known as black hairy tongue.
Those affected will have what looks like black fur on their tongues.
It can also result in bad breath and a gagging or tickling sensation in the throat.
While it looks strange, it is “harmless” and can be cured by looking after your mouth and teeth properly.
Dr Bhardwaj explained: “Black hairy tongue looks scary – this condition is harmless and more so of a visual impact.
“It is mainly caused by bacteria and fungi, which grow on the taste buds on the surface of the tongue called papillae, specially with those with low oral hygiene, immunodeficient, smokers or on selective anti microbial medication.
“The bacteria and fungi start to line the taste buds, and instead of shedding as normal they begin to elongate and grow like hair-like projections on the surface of the tongue, which also get discoloured to a blackish, dark brown colour as opposed to a whitish pink normally.
“This condition rarely carries any symptoms, except when the fungi start to affect the tongue similar to thrush.”
The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of black hairy tongue as:
- Black discoloration of the tongue, although the colour may be brown, tan, green, yellow or white
- A hairy or furry appearance of the tongue
- Altered taste or metallic taste in your mouth
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Gagging or tickling sensation, if the overgrowth of the papillae is excessive.
The clinic recommends seeing your doctor if you’re concerned about the appearance of your tongue or if it “persists” despite brushing your teeth and tongue twice daily.
As well as bad oral hygiene there are other potential causes of black hairy tongue.
This can include changes in the normal bacteria or yeast content in the mouth following the use of antibiotics.
Dry mouth, which is also known as xerostomia, is another possible cause.
Regular use of mouthwashes that contain irritating oxidising agents like peroxide is another contributing factor.
Other causes include:
- Tobacco use
- Drinking excessive amounts of coffee or black tea
- Excessive alcohol use
- Eating a soft diet that doesn’t help to rub dead skin cells from your tongue.
How to treat black hairy tongue
“Generally, this can be easily cured by good oral hygiene correcting any deficiency, and also brushing the tongue once or twice a day to remove the bacteria and fungi from the surface of the taste buds,” Dr Bhardwaj said.
“However, some cases may require antifungals and antibacterials to correct this via your dental professionals.”
To generally keep your teeth and mouth healthy the NHS advises sticking to a regular routine.
- Brushing twice a day
- Flossing between teeth
- Attending dental appointments.
It also recommends cutting down on sugar intake, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake.
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