What is the meaning of a hairy tongue? What causes it? Is it a condition to be worried about? Discover more on the meaning and causes of black and white hairy tongue and symptoms. You will also get insightful information about the right and proper treatments.
When you hear the term hairy tongue (lingua villosa), you may get scared but this is just a harmless, temporary and abnormal condition due to a defective shedding of surface cells of the tongue. Actually, this condition occurs due to lack of stimulation to the top of the tongue hence resulting in a buildup of the protein keratin.
In serious cases, the length of filiform papillae (conical shaped projections covering the tongue) may get quite long resulting in a hair-like appearance on the top of the tongue. Again, when these papillae don’t shed properly, there may be an accumulation of bacteria, food, and yeast in the hair-like mesh hence giving it the various colors.
Therefore, it may appear black, white, brown, green or pink. All these colors will depend on the specific causes, mouthwashes and even candies you consume.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop this condition but this condition is very rare in infants and very common in adults over 40 years. Therefore, it is now clear the developing hairy tongue increases with age.
Again, it has been reported by medical professionals to be more often in males. However, it is at the same time not uncommon in females. We also want to make it clear that, the risk of suffering from lingua villosa will depend on the exposure to the triggering factors i.e. one may be at a higher risk of developing it if he/she is smoking or drinking tea or coffee. Lastly, you have to bear in mind that this codition has no racial predilection.
Signs and symptoms
It is a condition that often affects two-thirds of the front tongue surface but not underneath it. This may make it appear yellow, green, orange, brown or black with a rough-coated layer or what is known as “hairy” look. Below are other symptoms that may occur alongside lingua villosa:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Development of altered taste or metallic taste in the mouth
- Developments of tickling sensation especially when there is an excessive overgrowth of the papillae
- One may also be worried about the appearance of his/her tongue
To diagnose this condition, your dentist or medical practitioners may use a physical clinical examination of the affected tongue. In this case, a biopsy may not be very important.
Black hairy tongue – lingua villosa nigra
Black hairy tongue or otherwise referred to as lingua villosa nigra is generally neither painful nor harmful condition characterized by the occurrence of black furry discoloration that gives the black hairy look or appearance.
This condition is normally initiated with two problems, which are blackish or brownish discoloration of the papillae and the lengthening of papillae (known as the taste buds). The black hairy appearance of the tongue may be worrisome and bothersome especially when accompanied by bad breath and gagging sensation.
This is due to accumulation of bacteria, food debris as well as other microorganisms on the papillae. The hairy appearance, therefore, results from the elongation of papillae when it is unable to shed off. This condition has no specified causes but here are some potential factors that can be blamed for its occurrence :
- Scanty and poor oral hygiene is the major cause of furry tongue in many cases.
- Heavy consumption of coffee alongside heavy tobacco or cigarette smoking
- Reaction to certain medication i.e. those containing bismuth or antimicrobial medications e.g. tetracycline. Medications such antibiotics can result in an imbalance of the bacteria in the mouth leading to lingua villosa nigra.
- Regular use of mouthwash that contains oxidizing and astringent agents such as methanol, witch hazel and peroxide
- Decreased production of saliva or lowered saliva flow rate
- It is also prevalent in persons without teeth since they feed on a soft diet which has no abrasive action on the top of the tongue (A soft food diet cannot rub off dead tissues)
- One is also likely to suffer this condition when he/she has a weakened immune system may be due to HIV/AIDs or diabetes
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Treatments for lingua villosa nigra
Usually, it will go away on its own but one can speed the process by eliminating some of the factors that might trigger it. During the treatment, the aim is to restore back the normal tongue color or appearance of the affected tongue. Here are the best treatments:
Regular brushing of the teeth, cavity, and tongue
Regular brushing of teeth, gum, and tongue using soft bristle usually aid the getting rid of accumulated bacteria or food debris hence preventing one from developing this disease.
Hydrating oral cavity
One can also hydrate his or her oral cavity through drinking plenty water to prevent his/her oral cavity from drying up. Remember that, when the oral cavity is dry, the possibility of bacteria, as well as other microorganism flourishing in the oral cavity and accumulating in the papillae, is very high. Therefore, hydration of oral cavity is very essential.
Changing your lifestyle
Changing lifestyle is another important step in treating black hairy tongue i.e. one may decide quit drinking alcohol, smoking cigarette as well as excessive drinking coffee. This may really help to stop this misfortune.
Application of podophyllin
This keratolytic agent can aid the getting rid of the keratin present on the surface of the tongue. It is also worth to note that proper attention must be observed during the use of podophyllin.
White hairy tongue – causes and treatments
This another oral problem which is painless and harmless but can lead to discomfort as well as bad breath. What seems to be “white hairy” appearance on the tongue is a film of bacterial growth on the papillae.
This condition usually develop due to oral thrush or candida albicans. Though normal tongue always seem to have little furry presentation of white hairy appearance, the thick furry white appearance may be of a lot of concern to the bearer.
What causes it
It should be noted that oral thrush is the major cause this white hairy appearance. Normally, bacteria can produce sulphur compound resulting oral malodor and white tongue. Other potential causes include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Cigarette smoking
- Body reaction to certain medication
- Prevalent diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDs
- Improper diet
- Radiation Treatment to the head and Neck
The most effective treatments for the white hairy tongue is an observation of right and proper oral hygiene. Other treatments include:
- Taking plenty of water every day
- Brush your oral cavity, teeth, gums, and tongue using soft bristle on a daily basis
- Keeping the entire mouth well hydrated
- Habitual changes i.e. Refraining from excessive drinking of caffeinated drinks and giving your back to smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Scrap it using a tongue scraper to remove debris and other microorganisms
Hairy tongue disease in adults
This condition is more prevalent in adults than in children. Well, there this simple perception backing up this sentiment. It true that adult is more exposed to risk factors for hairy tongue than the children are.
Talk of smoking cigarette, drinking alcohol, suffering diabetes or living HIV/AIDs positive. All these factors are more common in adults than in children and that why we say hairy tongue is more prevalent in adults.
When to see a Doctor?
Usually, black or white lingua villosa is painless and harmless apart from developing alongside bad breath. There are remedies that can be used to get rid of this condition. You should see your doctor when your hairy tongue is persistent even after using the treatments procedures we have mentioned.