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What Causes Black Gums?

Autumn Rivers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Though black gums are not normal, they can usually be treated and are not typically a sign of a serious issue. For example, amalgam tattoos are dark spots that may form around fillings, dentures, and crowns. Calculus, which is a substance that can build up in the mouth when oral hygiene is lacking, can also cause dark areas on the gums. Unfortunately, black gums may also be a sign of malignant melanoma in the mouth, which is particularly difficult to treat. The good news is that dark gums can typically be avoided through sufficient oral hygiene that includes regular brushing, flossing, dental checkups, and avoidance of smoking and chewing tobacco.

Some people develop spotty gums after they get certain types of dental treatment, such as dentures, fillings, and crowns. Gum discoloration of this type is called an amalgam tattoo, which is caused when tiny pieces from a filling or cap wedge themselves into the gums. This issue often looks like a blue or black tattoo in the mouth, and though it is not desirable to those seeking a perfect smile, it is also harmless. Of course, amalgam tattoos can be removed by a dentist if preferred.

Another issue that may lead to black gums is calculus, which is technically hardened plaque, also called tartar. Though it is usually easily removed by a dentist, patients can frequently prevent it in the first place by brushing and flossing regularly to remove plaque. The result of calculus is a group of yellow or black spots that appear on the gum line, and if not taken care of by a dentist, these spots may lead to receding gums and breath that smells unpleasant. If the issue is not brought to a dentist's attention to be treated, it may lead to gum disease in the future.

Despite the fact that most causes of black gums are treatable, there is still some cause for concern when this symptom is observed. This is because a dark spot can also be a sign of malignant melanoma inside the mouth, which is a rare form of skin cancer. As the cancer grows, the spot may increase in size, and might eventually look like a dark color mixed with gray or red. While most cases of skin cancer can be treated when caught early on, many cases of melanoma in the mouth cannot be solved since this area is difficult to reach. Additionally, by the time most patients notice the black gums, the disease has often already progressed past the point of treatment.

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.
Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By anon346245 — On Aug 26, 2013

This article neglects to mention that black gums can be hereditary. For example, they are more common in dark-skinned people (though most dark-skinned people, just like most lighter-skinned people, have pink gums).

By kentuckycat — On Aug 11, 2012

@jcraig - You are right. Taking good care of your teeth is something easy that everyone can do for their health. I know that a lot of people neglect taking care of their gums, though. I have seen a couple of people who only focus on the smile surfaces of their teeth rather than the whole mouth. When you are brushing your teeth, it only takes 10-15 extra seconds to brush your gums.

Besides preventing gingivitis and other gum problems, the brushing also strengthens the muscles that help hold your teeth in place. Flossing is even better.

It is kind of gross, but I ran into some people once who had black gums because of using chewing tobacco. Instead of being worried about it, they saw it as a sign of pride because of how much they had to use to get to that point. I guess it will be their loss in the long run, though.

By jcraig — On Aug 10, 2012

I could never understand why some people would let their gums get black in the first place. To me, having black gums is a sign of terrible oral care. I can understand the amalgam tattoos. It doesn't sound like there is really anything you can do about that, and some people may not have the money to get them removed. As far as the calculus goes, though, that shouldn't be a problem in the first place.

It seems like for your gums to get to that stage, you would have to skip regular brushing for several weeks in a row. Besides that, there have been a lot of studies recently showing that good oral hygiene is linked to a longer life span and reduced risk of heart disease.

By JimmyT — On Aug 09, 2012

@jcm88 - Hmm, I think I know what you mean about black gums in dogs. All of my dogs have had a similar set of dark spots. As far as I can tell, it is something normal that happens. Can I assume that your dogs have dark lips as opposed to pink lips like in some breeds (although I can't think of any examples right now)? In my dogs, the coloring always starts when they are about a year old. It usually spreads a little into the pink part of their lips and then stops.

As far as I can tell, it's nothing too serious. All of my dogs have had it, and they have all lived normal lives. They've all exceeded the normal life expectancy, as well. I guess if you're still worried about it, you could try brushing their teeth more often, but that is usually a chore of itself.

My advice would be just to do regular checks of your dog's teeth and make sure the spot doesn't grow. You might also ask your vet about it next time you go.

By jmc88 — On Aug 08, 2012

@SarahGen - I was also wondering about dogs getting black gums. When I first got my puppy, he experienced a similar situation, but I found an explanation for it online. Now, though, he has a couple of black spots on his "lips" or whatever the term is for the skin that covers a dog's teeth. I'm not talking about the actual gums that come in contact with the teeth. I mean the next layer that you can pull up to look at the dog's teeth.

I am pretty sure that the dot didn't form until he was about a year old, and he is 3 years old now. At first I thought it was just a piece of a toy he had been chewing on until I realized that I couldn't wipe it off. It has never gotten larger, so I'm not too worried about it. I am just curious about what it could be and if it could be a sign of something I need to take care of.

By SarahGen — On Aug 08, 2012

@anamur-- I know about that!

I don't have any kids but I experienced the same thing with my dog when he was a puppy. A majority of his gums turned black when he was about five months old and I was extremely worried about it being an infection, or God forbid, cancer.

I took him to the vet immediately and was pleasantly surprised to know that it's from teething. I guess dogs have black gums due to many of the same causes as people.

By serenesurface — On Aug 08, 2012

@JessicaLynn-- I'm in the same boat. I have black gums around two crowns in the back. But since they're never visible, even when I smile, I don't worry about them at all.

The one time I really worried about this was when my daughter had them when she was teething as an infant. But thankfully, that turned out to be a normal thing too. Apparently, babies can get black gums temporarily while they are teething. The teeth sometimes cause a little bit of bleeding underneath the gums as they are coming through. That makes the gums look black for a while, but eventually it goes away on its own.

By donasmrs — On Aug 07, 2012

I had this black spot in between my gum and my tooth in the back of my mouth last year. When I saw it, I thought that I had a cavity at the root of my tooth that was making my gum appear black or a gum infection.

I freaked out obviously and made an appointment with my dentist right away. My dentist took one look at it and said that this was not a cavity, but rather an old filling that had become discolored over time.

I had completely forgotten about that filling and I wasn't aware that fillings can become darker over time. My dentist asked me if I want it removed and replaced with a new filling that won't get discolored and I said yes. The black coloration of my tooth and gum disappeared after this treatment. I thought I'd share it here in case anyone else is going through the same thing.

By Azuza — On Aug 07, 2012

I actually had a friend who developed an amalgam tattoo after she had some dental work done. When she first saw the spot, she was really upset, thinking she was going to need gingivitis treatment. She couldn't figure out why, because she took excellent care of her teeth.

However, when she went to the dentist the dentist told her that it was from a crown she had gotten a few years ago. She decided to get it treated, because it was in the front part of her mouth and she didn't like looking at it.

By eidetic — On Aug 06, 2012

I think the fact that melanoma in the mouth is so hard to catch is a good reason to get regular dental checkups. Most people don't notice their gums on a regular basis unless they have sore gums, or something is really wrong.

I could imagine that if you got black gums from melanoma in the back part of your mouth, you probably would never notice til your dentist told you. And then it would be too late, as the article said.

By Pharoah — On Aug 05, 2012

@JessicaLynn - That was probably a relief for a lot of people reading this article. I know a ton of people who have crowns.

I think the most dangerous causes of black gums are definitely gum infection and, of course, cancer. Luckily you can prevent gum infection though. Most people that even have average dental hygiene don't have to worry about getting gum disease.

By JessicaLynn — On Aug 05, 2012

I'm really glad black gums around the tooth from crowns isn't a serious problem. I have several crowns, and when I first read in the article crowns could cause this, I got a little upset. However, I was very relieved once I actually finished reading.

Luckily for me, most of my crowns are in less visible parts of my mouth. So if I develop this problem, I don't think I'm going to worry about it. I hate having dental work done!

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for The Health Board, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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