Hairy tongue looks scary, but it’s not harmful. This condition is a result of protein buildup on the surface of your tongue. It affects about 13% of the population, is more frequent in older age, and is more common in men than women. The buildup of protein can cause the papillae on your tongue to become long, like hair—usually about 1mm in length. Proper diagnosis is made by your dentist.
The long papillae can trap food, tobacco, or other substances on your tongue and make your tongue appear to be black, yellow, or otherwise discolored.
It is usually not painful, but if bacteria or yeast are trapped on your tongue, it can cause discomfort. When you swallow, it may tickle or cause you to gag.
What causes it?
Lack of stimulation to the surface of the tongue causes the protein buildup. It can be a result of poor oral hygiene; dry mouth; certain medication; prolonged use of antibiotics;irritation from excessive drinking of hot beverages, such as coffee or tea drinking; tobacco use; or radiation therapy to the head and neck area.
How can hairy tongue be treated and prevented?
Good oral hygiene is the key. Use a tongue scraper and toothbrush to keep your tongue clean, and to prevent it from collecting bacteria. If you have a strong gag reflex, use a small toothbrush, if necessary, one for children. Maintaining good oral hygiene should eliminate the problem.
If the problem persists, you need to see your dentist. Be prepared to answer a few questions regarding the condition. Your dentist will want to know:
- when you first noticed the problem
- how often you brush and floss your teeth
- how often you clean your tongue
- if you use tobacco, and how frequently
- how frequently you drink coffee or tea
- which medications or herbal supplements you take
- if you have had any recent oral infections
Providing your dentist with details will help him or her provide you with accurate diagnosis and treatment.
This post is sponsored by Colorado Springs dentist Dr. Joseph Rota of Rota Advanced Dental Care.