What does it mean to have a hairy tongue?
A hairy tongue is a medical condition in which the surface of the tongue changes to a discolored or furry appearance. Although, it might seem unpleasant but hairy tongue is relatively a harmless condition that can easily be dealt with in most cases.
Hairy tongue often result when the filiform papillae (FP) on the tongue do not shed as they ought to. Filiform are cone-shaped projections on the surface of your tongue which are about 1 millimeter long.
However like the skin cells, the cells on your tongue also have a life cycle that allows them to grow, serve their purpose, before they eventually fall off. With hairy tongue, the tiny bumps on the surface of the tongue become bigger, looking similar to small hairs. From observations, these hairs can grow up to 18 millimeters in length. As they grow, the surface color changes and often become brown or black.
The upper surface of the tongue is mostly rough in texture because it’s covered in tiny processes or protrusions called “papillae. They are several types of papilla but the most common one is the filiform papillae.
Filiform papillae are elongated along with a cone-shaped protrusions which are responsible for the gripping of food on your tongue surface. These structures grow to about 1 millimeter in length before they are shed from the tongue in order to allow new ones to grow.
Hairy tongue mostly occurs when the filiform papillae do not shed properly leading to a buildup of the skin protein known as “keratin”. So when this happens, food, bacteria, or yeast will accumulate in the over keratinized filiform papillae network thereby forming an odd discoloration.
Causes of hairy tongue
1. Dipping, chewing or smoking of tobacco
2. Coffee or black tea
3. Use of mouthwashes that contain whitening or oxidizing ingredients like “peroxide”.
4. Poor oral hygiene
5. Dehydration or dry mouth
6. Some certain medications like treatments for stomach acid reflux.
Some symptoms of hairy tongue includes:
1. A gagging sensation
2. A metallic taste in the mouth
3. Bad breath also known as halitosis
4. A tickling on the surface of the mouth when swallowing foods.
5. A burning sensation on the tongue
Treatments and preventions are mostly achieved through some lifestyle changes which may have trigger the onset of hairy tongue like smoking, tobacco etc. Also oral hygiene and regular visits to a dentist are possible ways to stop hairy tongue from manifesting.
Other possible approaches are:
1. Brushing the tongue or making use of a specialized tongue scraper.
2. Limiting the consumption of substances that can cause hairy tongue such as coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco.