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Keratin (a protein) and bacteria/fungi buildup can cause a black tongue. Dark beverages or foods can also turn the tongue’s surface black.
A healthy tongue is usually pink in color with a whitish coating. If you notice a black tint to your tongue, it can indicate an underlying condition.
A black hue to your tongue might be the only symptom you notice. Additional symptoms that can occur with a black tongue include:
The primary causes of a black tongue include:
The primary cause of black discoloration on the tongue is a benign condition called black hairy tongue syndrome.
A healthy tongue sheds keratin cells continuously. A black hairy tongue occurs when that process stops, causing the papillae to remain long. These long papillae give your tongue a hairy or furry appearance.
The discoloration in a black hairy tongue is due to staining from external factors, such as beverages, tobacco, and bad oral hygiene.
Risk factors for black hairy tongue include:1
A black hairy tongue typically improves within a few days of practicing good oral hygiene, but some cases may need further treatment.
A viral, bacterial, or fungal infection in the mouth can cause the tongue’s surface to turn black, among other colors.2 Other symptoms you might experience with an oral infection are:
Contact a doctor immediately if you have a black tongue and symptoms like these.
Your tongue may turn black due to habits you perform daily. Lifestyle factors that can cause a dark color on your tongue include:
Certain medications can cause a black tongue as a side effect. Medicines that may trigger black discoloration include:3,5
Discuss any side effects you notice after starting a new medication with your doctor.
If your tongue is black when you wake up, you might need to improve your oral hygiene. Your tongue could have a bacterial overgrowth due to not taking care of your oral health properly.
You may also develop a black tongue overnight if you consumed dark foods and beverages the night before. It’s especially common if you don’t clean your mouth effectively before bed.
A healthy tongue is pink in color with a whitish coating. The coating is the papillae, the tiny bumps containing your taste buds.
Your tongue should be pink in the morning and any other time of day. You may need to consult a doctor if it’s another color or if your papillae seem long or patchy.
No, a black tongue isn’t typically serious. Most cases of black tongue are benign and can be treated by maintaining good oral hygiene.
A doctor will perform an oral examination to diagnose a black tongue. They will also conduct a medical history to eliminate or identify underlying conditions.
The primary treatment for a black tongue is improving your oral hygiene practices. At-home remedies your doctor might recommend include:
Medical treatment is not typically required for a black tongue. However, if you have an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, antifungal treatment, or antiviral medication to treat the condition.
Your doctor may change your prescription if a medication is causing your tongue discoloration. They may also review what oral care products you use and recommend changes if necessary.
The outlook for a black tongue is positive.4 It typically resolves with good oral care practices within a few days.
You can prevent a black tongue by practicing excellent oral hygiene. Follow these tips to avoid developing a black tongue:
A black tongue is typically a benign condition that resolves quickly with good oral care practices.
Your tongue should always be pink with a whitish coating, regardless of the time of day.
It’s rare for a vitamin deficiency to result in a black tongue. Low levels of niacin can sometimes cause a black tongue, though this particular deficiency is rare.
Certain low-income communities with a diet heavy in corn may experience niacin deficiencies.6
A black tongue typically develops from poor oral hygiene. Your tongue may also turn black from lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, consuming dark foods and beverages, and infections.
Most cases of a black tongue are benign and will resolve with good oral hygiene practices. Sometimes, your doctor may need to prescribe medication to treat an underlying condition.
The prognosis for a black tongue is positive. You can prevent it from happening by taking good care of your oral health, avoiding tobacco and dark beverages, and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings.
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