Black tongue: causes, treatments and home remedies

Black tongue is a harmless and temporary oral condition. Despite its name, the black tongue does not always make the tongue turn black. In fact, the main symptom is that the tongue looks hairy with visible growths.

Black tongue usually occurs due to an accumulation of keratin protein on the surface of the tongue.

However, an overgrowth of bacteria or fungi inside the mouth can also make the tongue look black. The black tongue is temporary and tends to clear up without treatment.

Read on for more information on the causes of black tongue. We also describe some home remedies and treatments that can help clean the black tongue and prevent its recurrence.

There are two main types of black tongue: black hairy tongue and pseudo-black hairy tongue. Each has a different cause, which the following sections will cover in more detail.

Black hairy tongue

A doctor who looks in a woman's mouth to see if she has a black and hairy tongue. Share on Pinterest
An accumulation of keratin protein can cause a black tongue.

The skin of the tongue is covered with a protein called keratin.

Normally, keratin breaks loose when skin cells break off. Sometimes, however, keratin accumulates on the tongue. This can make the tongue look black and discolored. Doctors refer to this as black hairy tongue.

The following factors increase the risk of keratin accumulating on the tongue:

Pseudo-black hairy tongue

Some people may experience pseudo-black hairy tongue.

This refers to a black and hairy tongue as a result of a fungal infection, a bacterial infection or another oral disease.

Black tongue can cause different symptoms depending on its underlying cause.

The black tongue does not always make the tongue turn black. Instead, the main symptom is that the tongue looks hairy due to the presence of long and threadlike growths.

People with black tongues generally do not experience any other symptoms. However, some people may experience the following:

  • a discolored tongue that is black, brown, gray or yellow
  • a tongue that feels blurry or sticky
  • bad mouth taste
  • bad breath
  • a burning sensation
  • sickness

The black tongue is harmless. However, it may indicate that a person is at risk of developing an oral health problem.

Maintaining good oral hygiene can help clear up the black tongue. People can try:

  • regularly brush your tongue with a fluoride toothpaste
  • using a tongue scraper to remove plaque, bacteria and other debris from the tongue
  • rinse mouth with warm salt water to improve cleanliness and reduce bad tastes and odors
  • brush your tongue after each meal and do not eat after brushing at night
  • applying baking soda or hydrogen peroxide on the tongue
  • drink lots of water to help keep your mouth clean
  • eat more raw fruits and vegetables, which can help clean your tongue

If the black tongue does not clear on its own in a few days, a person should seek medical treatment.

A doctor or dentist may recommend the following treatments for a person who presents with a black tongue:

  • Antibiotics: These medications will help treat bacterial infections of the tongue.
  • Change of medications: A person who develops black tongue as a result of antibiotic use may need to change antibiotics.
  • Antifungal treatment: These medications can help treat the fungal causes of a black tongue.
  • Other medications or supplements: Anecdotal evidence suggests that certain medications, including salicylic acid, retinoids and B-complex vitamins, can relieve black tongue symptoms. However, people should not use these treatments without first talking to a doctor.
  • Surgical treatment: If other treatment options do not work, a doctor or dentist can perform a procedure to remove long, thread-like growths on the tongue. This trimming procedure is safe and effective. However, the black tongue may return after the procedure.

Black tongue can be alarming, but it is not a medical emergency.

It is safe to wait a few days and try some home remedies before seeing a doctor or dentist. However, people should seek help from a health care provider if their symptoms persist or worsen.

Sometimes, black tongue occurs with other symptoms of an oral health problem, such as:

People should consult a doctor or dentist as soon as possible if their black tongue is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • visibly damaged teeth

Noticing a black tongue can be alarming, but it is not a sign of a serious illness. In some cases, however, it may indicate that a person needs to improve their oral hygiene.

In general, it is safe to wait a few days before seeking treatment for a black tongue. Meanwhile, people can try home remedies such as brushing their tongue or scraping and rinsing with salt water.

A person should see a doctor or dentist if their symptoms persist or worsen, or if they are accompanied by pain and swelling. The doctor or dentist will work to diagnose the cause of black tongue and provide you with the appropriate medical treatments.

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