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What Are the Causes of Black Tongue?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Also known as melanoglossia, black tongue is a medical condition that is manifested by a discoloration of the tongue. The main symptom of this condition is the appearance of stains on the tongue, usually either a dark brown or black in color. People who experience black tongue will often manifest the side effects of bad breath along with a strong taste of metal in the mouth. In severe cases, the taste may be strong enough to cause the initiation of the sufferer’s gag reflex. Along with being caused by a bacterial infection, this condition may be triggered by allergies or even by the use of certain types of medications.

One of the more common causes of black tongue is the development of some sort of bacterial infection. The infection helps to slow the process of shedding of the tiny hairs on the tongue, resulting in the collection of materials that help to create of the black patches along the surface. Treating the underlying infection will often restore proper balance and eliminate the patches.

In some cases, black tongue may be caused by an allergic reaction to over the counter or prescription products. In certain people, mouthwashes containing certain ingredients like menthol or peroxide may trigger an adverse reaction. Some prescription medications may also cause this type of condition to develop as a side effect. By identifying products or medication that may be causing the distress and replacing them with other products, the condition will often dissipate in a short period of time.

Other factors can create an ideal environment for the development of black tongue. Poor oral hygiene, such as infrequent brushing, little to no use of mouthwash or not flossing on a regular basis can increase the chances of triggering this type of health problem. Liquid antacids may leave a residue on the tongue that helps to trigger this condition. Use of tobacco products, including cigarettes, snuff, or chewing tobacco may also lead to this type of ailment. Making changes in hygiene habits as well as avoiding the use of tobacco products will greatly enhance the possibility of avoiding the development of black tongue.

The good news is that black tongue and the associated bad breath and unpleasant taste in the mouth can be treated with relative ease. By identifying which factor or set of factors is triggering the condition and taking steps to make changes in habits, products, or medication, it is possible to bring the condition under control and cure it in short order. Working with a physician to identify the factors contributing to the development of black tongue will often expedite finding the right course of action and alleviating the discomfort sooner rather than later.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including The Health Board, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By fify — On Jan 29, 2015

@serenesurface-- Did you take any liquid over the counter medication for upset stomach, especially one containing bismuth? Medications with bismuth are known to cause temporary black tongue. It has happened to me a few times in the past.

By donasmrs — On Jan 28, 2015

@serenesurface-- If you ate anything with a dark color, that can sometimes happen from food or candy. It happened to me once from hard candy.

And you said you were sick. So it could also be bacteria or yeast accumulating there from the infection. Even antibiotics can trigger this by killing good bacteria to temporary reduce in numbers, causing the bad bacteria to basically have a field day. It seems like that's what probably happened in your situation.

Next time you're sick and using antibiotics, take probiotic supplements or eat yogurt and kefir. These are full of good bacteria that replace the ones that reduce because of antibiotic treatments. I can make a huge difference and prevent issues like diarrhea and black tongue that antibiotics can cause. I always eat a lot of natural yogurt when I'm on antibiotics.

By serenesurface — On Jan 28, 2015

I once woke up with a black tongue and seriously feared that I had cancer. I had never experienced it before and didn't know what to make of it. I suspect that it was a reaction to something I ate or used the previous day. I did have a cold and was drinking a lot of herbal tea and also using lozanges. Thankfully, the condition didn't last long. It disappeared soon after.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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