Overview of Black hairy tongue


Black hairy tongue syndrome is a condition of the tongue in which the small bumps on the tongue elongate with black or brown discoloration, giving a black and hairy appearance. The appearance may be alarming, but it is a harmless condition. Predisposing factors include smoking, xerostomia (dry mouth), soft diet, poor oral hygiene and certain medications. Management is facilitated by improving oral hygiene, especially scraping or brushing the tongue Hairy tongue largely occurs in the central part of the dorsal tongue, just anterior (in front) of the circumvallate papillae, although sometimes the entire dorsal surface may be involved. Discoloration usually accompanies hairy tongue, and may be yellow, brown or black. Apart from the appearance, the condition is typically asymptomatic, but sometimes people may experience a gagging sensation or a bad taste. There may also be associated oral malodour (intra-oral halitosis).

The term "melanoglossia' is also used to refer to there being black discolorations on the tongue without "hairs", which are also harmless and unrelated to black hairy tongue The cause is uncertain, but it is thought to be caused by accumulation of epithelial squames and proliferation of chromogenic (i.e., color-producing) microorganisms. There may be an increase in keratin production or a decrease in normal desquamation (shedding of surface epithelial cells). Many people with BHT are heavy smokers. Other possible associated factors are poor oral hygiene, general debilitation, hypo salivation (i.e., decreased salivary flow rate), radiotherapy, overgrowth of fungal or bacterial organisms, and a soft diet. Occasionally, BHT may be caused by the use of antimicrobial medications or oxidizing mouthwashes or antacids. A soft diet may be involved as normally food has an abrasive action on the tongue, which keeps the filiform papillae short. Pellagra, a condition caused by niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency, may cause a thick greyish fur to develop on the dorsal tongue, along with other oral signs.

Transient surface discoloration of the tongue and other soft tissues in the mouth can occur in the absence of hairy tongue. Causes include smoking (or betel chewing), some foods and beverages (e.g., coffee, tea or liquorice), and certain medications (e.g., chlorhexidine, iron salts, or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)) Diagnosis is usually made on the clinical appearance without the need for a tissue biopsy. However, when biopsies have been taken, the histologic appearance is one of marked elongation and hyperparakeratosis of the fusiform papillae and numerous bacteria growing on the epithelial surface

Hairy tongue may be confused with hairy leukoplakia, however the latter usually occurs on the sides of the tongue and is associated with an opportunistic infection with Epstein–Barr virus on a background immune compromise almost always human immunodeficiency virus infection but rarely other conditions which suppress the immune system

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Sarah eve

Editorial Assistant

Journal of Oral Hygiene and Health