A condition where there is an overgrowth of filiform papillae on the dorsal surface of the tongue is called hairy tongue. Read on to know all about its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
A hairy tongue is one of the most common misnomers in dentistry. It does not actually imply the presence of hair on tongue. The dorsal surface of a healthy tongue is soft and velvety in appearance. This velvety feel is due to small papillae that are present on the dorsum. They are known as filiform papillae. They shed at regular intervals. However, sometimes when these papillae tend to grow, the cells do not shed, due to which these papillae appear as long strands on the surface of the tongue. These strands often get stained due to contamination or bacterial activity leading to a black tongue color. This is the reason this condition is known as black hairy tongue syndrome.
It is not known for sure as to what leads to this condition. Some people claim that eating too many candies can lead to stagnation of shedding of filiform papillae. Sometimes, this condition can be brought on by excessive use of mints and mouthwashes, which may even contain certain chemicals that a person may be allergic to. Excessive use of mouthwashes containing peroxide could also be a cause for this. People who are either immunocompromised or are on antibiotics for long also have a high chance of contracting this condition. It may also be indicative of changes in levels of vitamin A in the body. A person can also get black hairy tongue from smoking incessantly. At times, this condition can also be attributed to very poor oral hygiene. In rare cases, in certain febrile conditions, despite having pristine oral hygiene, a person may get this syndrome.
The most obvious symptom is the presence of long strands of papillae on the dorsal surface of the tongue. This may be merely irritating for the person. If these overgrown papillae get infected, then it could lead to pain, ulceration, swelling, and tongue discoloration. This condition is often accompanied by bad breath. The person may also complain of abnormal taste in the mouth. There may be food accumulation on the surface of the tongue, which further increases the risk of infection in this region. In rare cases, if the papillae become very long, then they could lead to a gagging sensation in the throat.
The treatment for this condition will depend on the underlying cause. If the person has very bad oral hygiene, then it is advisable to visit the dentist and get the condition diagnosed and treated at the earliest. If the person is febrile and has a systemic infection, then taking antibiotics for the condition will not only resolve the systemic disorder, but will also help in its cure. If the person has a vitamin A deficiency, then he should increase his intake of this vitamin. However, if the condition is mild and asymptomatic, then it is best that the person practices some basic dental care, like using a tongue cleaner and brushing the dorsal surface of his tongue as often as possible so as to prevent the accumulation of food particles and bacteria in this region. Furthermore, there are certain predisposing factors that can lead to this condition, like smoking, chewing tobacco, sucking on candies for a prolonged period of time, etc. A person should keep such factors in mind and avoid them. In very severe cases, where the papillae are so long that they interfere with eating and breathing, it is best to visit a dentist and get the condition treated at the earliest.
Although this condition is not very severe or life-threatening, it can easily be avoided by exercising some basic dental care. Because, as they say, prevention is always better than cure!
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.