You might have heard the term hairy tongue before and wondered what it is, or you may have been diagnosed with it and wonder now whether it can be cured. The condition is a common one, with about 13% of people getting it at one time or another. The condition can be frustrating to patients and can look serious, but it is a harmless condition that can be cured. It’s a temporary condition, and there’s no need to worry about it causing any other problems.
What Is Hairy Tongue?
This condition affects the top portion of the tongue. An abnormal coating appears on the tongue’s surface that can be any of several colors. Patients can develop hairy tongue at any age, but patients are more likely to get it when they’re older. It is found in equal numbers across races, but men are more likely to get it than women. This condition happens when the shedding process of the tongue is defective. There is a covering tissue on the tongue that sheds. The tongue has a number of projections on it that are conical in shape called filiform papillae. These are about 1mm long.
When they don’t have any abrasion against them or stimulation to them, hairy tongue can develop. When this happens, the protein keratin can build up. Keratin is the same thing that the hair on top of your head is made from. These projections can get much longer in these cases, and they start to look like hair is growing on the tongue.
The papilla that aren’t shedding properly can also start to build up bacteria and food, and sometimes even yeast. When this accumulation builds up, the top surface of your tongue can become a different color. When you have hairy tongue, it can be pink, brown, green, white, or black. When it’s black, this usually indicates that there are specific types of yeast or bacteria there. This is called black hairy tongue.
Hairy tongue can be diagnosed simply by a doctor or dentist who sees the build-up. There is no need for lab tests or biopsies to be done on it. The condition doesn’t have any other symptoms most of the time, but it’s possible for the roof of the mouth to have a tickling feeling or the tongue to have a burning sensation. People may also gag often and/or have bad breath. It can also make things taste differently because there is debris on the taste buds.
Causes of Hairy Tongue
A common cause of this condition is having poor oral hygiene. However, there are many other things that can cause it. There are a number of medications that can result in hairy tongue as a side effect. Using antibiotics a lot, for instance, can cause it, as can radiation treatments that are done to the neck and head.
Drinking too much tea or coffee and using tobacco a lot can all cause this condition to develop. Having a dry mouth and using cocaine can both cause it as well. Some people get it because they don’t have teeth, and this can mean they eat a soft diet that isn’t abrasive enough to help the papillae to shed properly.
What Are the Treatments for Hairy Tongue?
When you have a build-up on your tongue, it’s important to get better with your oral hygiene. Use a toothbrush to brush this build-up off your tongue, You can also use a tongue scraper that may make it easier. When you have this condition often, you need to see a dentist or doctor about the problem. When a hairy tongue isn’t cured by these simple methods of oral hygiene, it’s possible that you may need medical treatment or even surgery.
Having a hairy tongue usually doesn’t mean that there is a serious problem going on. It is often a condition that exists all by itself and is usually easy to cure. For some people, the condition comes about after a lifetime of damaging habits such as smoking, so making new habits can be an important part of curing it. You might also talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication if your case is being caused by a medicine that you take.
You might also need medication in some cases. Sometimes, an antifungal medication needs to be prescribed to you. Or, an antiseptic mouthwash available over the counter may help. Having better oral hygiene can keep this condition at bay once you get rid of it. If you eat a soft-food diet, remember to brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper.
For some patients, seeing an oral surgeon is necessary to help them with their case of hairy tongue. You can call us at DFW Oral Surgeons when you need an oral surgeon to look at your specific case of the condition.