Updated on February 12, 2024
7 min read

Why Are My Gums Black?

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Why are my Gums Black?

Some people have healthy gums that are naturally darker. Actual ‘black’ gums are rare, while darkened gum tissue is more common. 

Poor oral hygiene and other lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use, can darken the gums. Certain medications can also cause dark gums as a side effect.

If your gums aren’t typically black, this can indicate an underlying medical or oral health condition. Visit your dentist if you’re concerned. 

9 Potential Causes of Darkened Gums

Dark gums have many possible causes, including:

1. Melanin

Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment in your body that determines the color of your hair, eyes, skin, and gums. The more melanin you have, the darker those colors will be.

Healthy gums vary in color from pink to brown to black.1 If you have more melanin, it may make your gums brown or black. You might also have variations in pigmentation on your gums and in other areas of your mouth, which is normal.

2. Tartar Buildup

When dental plaque builds up on your teeth and gums, it hardens into tartar. Tartar is more difficult to clean than plaque. Only a dentist can remove it during a professional cleaning.

Tartar buildup commonly occurs when you neglect daily oral hygiene. In its early stages, tartar usually appears yellowish. The longer plaque builds up, the darker it gets, which can cause the appearance of black gums. 

It’s essential to brush and floss daily to avoid accumulating tartar. Studies show that people with tartar buildup are more likely to have severe tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.2

3. Smoking

Smoking can affect oral health in many ways, including darkening the gums or smoker’s melanosis.

The nicotine in tobacco activates melanin-producing cells in your gums, resulting in pigmentation changes. The more often you smoke, the darker your gums will be.

Smoker’s melanosis occurs in 5 to 22% of cigarette and pipe smokers.3

4. Medication Side Effects

Certain medications may cause gum discoloration as a side effect. Medications known to darken gums include:1

  • Minocycline — An antibiotic used to treat severe acne and some infections 
  • Zidovudine — An antiretroviral used to treat HIV
  • Antimalarials — Chloroquine and quinine can discolor your gums
  • Some chemotherapy medications — Drugs used in chemotherapy, such as bleomycin and cyclophosphamide, can discolor your gums 

If you’ve noticed a change in your gum pigmentation since starting a new medication, consult your doctor. They can help determine if the darkened gums are a side effect of the medication or another cause. 

5. Amalgam Tattoo

An amalgam tattoo is a benign oral health condition caused by amalgam fillings. 

An amalgam filling is a type of filling that treats a cavity or small hole in a tooth. Amalgam fillings contain metals like silver, tin, and copper that may deposit particles on the gums. These particles can create a discolored spot on your gum near the filling.

Amalgam tattoos are painless, bluish-gray or black, and harmless.4 They won’t turn into anything malignant, but if the appearance bothers you, your dentist may be able to remove it.

6. Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a rare endocrine disorder that can stop the adrenal glands from producing enough hormones. One of the first signs of Addison’s disease is oral pigmentation.5

Other symptoms of Addison’s disease include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Darkened skin

7. Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome

If you have dark patches on your gums, hard palate, and lips, it can be a sign of Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.6 This is a rare disorder caused by a gene mutation where you develop benign growths in the gastrointestinal tract.

With Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, you may also notice freckles on the outside of your mouth. You’ll likely also experience abdominal discomfort and vomiting.

8. Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG)

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG), also known as trench mouth, is a severe form of gingivitis. It’s an infection that may cause fever, bad breath, and painful gums.

A layer of dead tissue can build up on the gums, causing black or grayish gums. If you suspect you have trench mouth, see your dentist immediately for a professional cleaning and antibiotics.

9. Oral Malignant Melanoma 

Oral malignant melanoma is a rare, aggressive skin cancer in the mouth. It accounts for only 1 to 2% of all oral malignancies.7 

This type of melanoma progresses quickly. It typically appears as dark, gray, purple, or red patches in the mouth. 

If you have unusual spots on your gums, always see a dentist as quickly as possible to rule out potentially dangerous conditions like oral malignant melanoma.

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Other Symptoms Related to Dark Gums

Some common symptoms that coincide with black gums include:

  • Teeth staining
  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Cavities and hard deposits on the teeth

Many of these symptoms indicate an oral hygiene issue. If you’re brushing and flossing your teeth diligently every day and still experience these symptoms, consult a dentist as soon as possible.

When to See a Dentist

See a dentist as soon as you notice a change in the color of your gums. 

You don’t have to consult your dentist if you usually have brown or black gums. However, if you notice unusual pigment changes or dark gum spots, especially in conjunction with other symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

How to Get Rid of Dark or Black Gums

Treating black gums depends on the underlying issue. There is no need for treatment if it’s a natural result of melanin or an amalgam tattoo. 

If black gums cause you pain, develop into a more severe issue, or are a cosmetic concern, your dentist can treat them. 

Treatments for getting rid of black gums include:

Scaling and Root Planing

If accumulated tartar is the cause of your black gums, scaling and root planing is the best way to get rid of it. It’s a deep cleaning of the gum tissues above and below the gum line.

Scaling involves removing the hard tartar, and root planing smooths the tooth roots. The procedure can prevent gum disease from progressing and return your gums to their standard color.

Surgical Interventions

If you want dark gums lightened for cosmetic reasons, your dentist may be able to use a laser to remove some of the excess pigmentations.   

Laser Vaporization

Laser vaporization is when your dentist vaporizes damaged, darkened gum tissue without removing the healthy tissue. It’s a good option when only sections of your gums are discolored. 

This procedure is relatively painless and allows you to return to your everyday routine immediately.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery involves the application of freezing temperatures to tissues to remove dead or dying cells.8 It’s an effective intervention for oral lesions that may cause black gums. It also has a quick recovery time.

Electrosurgery

Electrosurgery involves using electrical currents to cut away tissue. Some studies show it may cause undesired tissue reduction. It may not be the best option if you only have small dark spots on your gums.9

Can You Prevent Dark Gums? 

In some circumstances, yes, you can prevent dark gums.

If they result from tartar buildup, for example, you can prevent them from occurring by practicing good oral hygiene daily. 

You can also prevent gum discoloration by quitting or smoking less if you’re a smoker. Visiting the dentist for routine cleanings every 6 months is also helpful in preventing gum discoloration.

Some underlying issues cause dark gums, such as Addison’s disease, that you cannot prevent. If you take good care of your oral health and contact your dentist when you notice changes, you have a strong chance of catching issues early.

Summary

Black gums have many causes, including higher levels of melanin, tartar buildup, smoking, genetic disorders, and side effects of certain medications. They may be benign or a sign of an underlying condition.

Dentists can treat or remove the discoloration of gums with deep cleanings, surgical removal, and lasers. Your best chance of preventing gum discoloration is by practicing excellent oral hygiene.

Always consult your dentist if you notice any changes in the color of your gums.

Last updated on February 12, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 12, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. “Moneim, R., et al. “Gingival pigmentation (cause, treatment and histological preview).” Future Dental Journal, Science Direct, 2017. 
  2. Broadbent, J., et al. “Dental plaque and oral health during the first 32 years of life.” Journal of the American Dental Association, National Library of Medicine, 2011. 
  3. Taybos, G., et al. “Oral Changes Associated with Tobacco Use.” AAOM Web Writing Group, American Academy of Oral Medicine, 2008.
  4. Amalgam Tattoo.” Division of Oral Medicine and Dentistry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 2016.
  5. Sarkar, S., et al. “Addison’s disease.” Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, National Library of Medicine, 2012. 
  6. Georgescu, E., et al. “Peutz-Jeghers syndrome: case report and literature review.” Romanian Journal of Morphology and Embryology, National Library of Medicine, 2008.
  7. Zito, P., et al. “Oral Melanoma.” StatPearls, National Library of Medicine, 2022.
  8. Asrani, S., et al. “Cryosurgery: A Simple Tool to Address Oral Lesions.” Contemporary Clinical Dentistry, National Library of Medicine, 2018.
  9. Bhusari, B., et al. “Comparison between scalpel technique and electrosurgery for depigmentation: A case series.” Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, National Library of Medicine, 2011.
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