Hairy Tongue – sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? It’s actually a medical condition that sounds worse than it really is.
A Hairy Tongue occurs when the surface of the tongue becomes discolored and appears furry. In addition to an odd appearance, Hairy Tongue may cause symptoms that include:
• burning sensation on the tongue
• tickling to the roof of the mouth when swallowing
• metallic taste
• gagging sensation
• bad breath
The furry look and feel of Hairy Tongue is not hair, but a buildup of filiform papillae on the tongue’s surface. To understand how Hairy Tongue develops, let’s begin by looking at the makeup of the tongue’s surface.
The upper layer of the tongue is rough in texture because of papillae, which are miniscule protrusions. Papillae come in several types, most being filiform papillae. These are shaped so they help the tongue to grip food as we eat.
Similar to our skin cells, papillae are periodically replaced as new ones take their place. When filiform papillae are not exfoliated on a regular basis, the result can be a buildup of a certain protein known as keratin.
Without a normal shedding process, the continued buildup of keratin in filiform papillae begin to resemble hair-like protrusions. As food, bacteria, or yeast accumulate, discoloration also sets in.
The color of Hairy Tongue can vary depending on specific triggers that cause it to develop in the first place. For example, a black hairy tongue is typically associated with tobacco use and coffee or tea consumption.
The American Academy of Oral Medicine reports that Hairy Tongue affects approximately 13 percent of the population. (www.aaom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=133:hairy-tongue&catid=22:patient-condition-information&Itemid=120) However, the condition is more prevalent in some groups than others, such as those addicted to certain drugs.
Factors that may lead to the development of Hairy Tongue include:
• Tobacco and/or excessive consumption of alcohol, coffee or tea.
• A diet that is soft: Without stimulation and abrasion to the tongue, papillae may not shed at a sufficient rate. This can lead to abnormal buildup.
• Insufficient oral hygiene: When oral bacteria accumulate, it can lead to Hairy Tongue.
• Dry mouth: When there is not enough moisture in the mouth for an extended period of time, it can ripen conditions for developing a Hairy Tongue. In addition to some illnesses and as a side effect of many medications, dry mouth occurs as part of the aging process.
• Medications: Certain medications can contribute to conditions that can trigger a Hairy Tongue, with those that treat acid reflux at the top of the list as well as some mouth washes that contain peroxide. Excessive use of antibiotics also heigthens the potential to develop Hairy Tongue.
Typically, medical treatment is not needed to remedy Hairy Tongue. If you develop the condition, begin by having a dental examination and discussing a renewed, thorough commitment to good oral hygiene.
In addition to brushing your teeth twice daily, brush your tongue with your tooth brush each day. If this causes a tendency to gag, use a smaller brush and gradually work your way towards the back. Tongue scrapers are also available, which are easy and comfortable to use.
Also, try to eat a low-sugar diet that mostly includes fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help aid saliva flow that keeps the mouth clean.
If these changes are unable to resolve the Hairy Tongue condition, a more involved treatment may be needed. This may require an antibiotic or anti-fungal medication to control bacteria or yeast in the mouth.
Although a Hairy Tongue may feel strange and cause embarrassment, most cases are harmless. However, Hairy Tongue should be a warning sign that there is an imbalance in the health of your mouth. The simple measures recommended above should help restore your smiling confidence and prevent re-occurrence.