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3 Common Tongue Discoloration Problems, Their Causes, & Solutions

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Any time you notice that your tongue feels or looks different, you should visit your dentist to find out what is causing your problem. A healthy tongue should appear light to medium pink and relatively even in color. Read on to learn about three common tongue discoloration problems, their causes, and solutions.

1. A White Tongue

If you have glanced in the mirror and noticed that your tongue is white, then realize that the change in appearance could signal a small oral health problem or illness.

If you have other signs of illness, such as a fever or a sore throat, then visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis. However, if you are experiencing no other signs or symptoms of illness, then your white tongue could simply be a sign that you need to amp up your dental hygiene routine.

If you do not clean your tongue properly while performing your at-home dental care, then the small bumps on your tongue called papillae can become inflamed. Other causes of swollen papillae include cigarette smoking and stress.

This inflammation enlarges the papillae, which leads to tiny particles of food getting stuck between them more easily. If these particles are not completely removed during your oral hygiene routine, they can create a breeding ground for bacteria.

To decrease tongue inflammation caused by an inconsistent oral hygiene routine, amp up your oral care. Be sure to brush for at least three minutes three times each day, floss your teeth, and brush your tongue. If you find that brushing your tongue sets off your gag reflex, then try using a tongue scraper instead.

If amping up your oral health routine does not cause your white tongue to become healthy and pink in appearance again, then visit your dentist for additional treatment recommendations.

2. Black Hairy Tongue

Another relatively common tongue problem is black hairy tongue. It can be especially alarming to notice that you are developing black hairy tongue, which is a condition that causes your tongue to develop black or dark brown patches on it that look "furry."

However, it is important to know that the development of black hairy tongue is typically no cause for alarm. In fact, about 13 percent of all Americans will develop hairy tongue at least once in their lifetimes.

This condition typically stems from a buildup of dead skin cells on your tongue's papillae; food particles stick to these dead skin cells more easily than they stick to healthy papillae and then create a breeding ground for bacteria or even fungus.

The reason some people develop black hairy tongue is not clear, but dentists and doctors believe that many cases stem from lack of tongue stimulation due to eating mainly soft foods that do not lead to your tongue shedding as many dead skin cells, as usual, general bad oral hygiene, and dry mouth.

Just like when eliminating a white tongue, the first steps to attempting to eliminate black hairy tongue is brushing and flossing regularly and brushing or scraping your tongue to remove food particles and bacteria. Brushing or scraping your tongue will also help your tongue shed dead skin cells. However, some cases are more difficult to treat, especially if yeast begins to build up on your tongue, and require prescription medications from your dentist.

It is important to monitor the color of your tongue because it can give you clues to both your oral health and body health. If you ever notice that your tongue has taken on an unusual color or appearance, then report the change in your tongue condition to a dentist like Bewick Keary DDS for a diagnosis and treatment recommendation.