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Mouth Diseases

Black tongue

08/09/2006

Question:

Spots of my tongue has been black for a very long time. Recently, I noticed that those spots have all joined and almost half of my tongue is black and the other half is also turning black. Is this something I need to worry about?

Answer:

Dark spots on the tongue are not rare, especially in people of color or an ethnic background associated with darker skin. These essentially represent active pigment cells that often localize on the taste buds (fungiform papillae). In this case, the dark spots usually look round or oval.

Another condition that can lead to darkening of the tongue is termed hairy tongue. In this condition, the hair-like projections from the tongue (called filiform papillae) become darker. Here, the dark spots are more slender and look like small, dark hairs.

Neither condition is serious, although hairy tongue can be reduced by gentle brushing of the affected area of the tongue. If the condition is hereditary, you must learn to live with it.

Sometimes the tongue can be stained with foods or pigment-producing bacteria, both of which are harmless.  Some drugs can cause brown pigmentation of the lining of the mouth as well.  Rarely, some endocrine (gland) problems can cause pigmentation of the lining of the mouth.

To sort all of these things out, you would need to be seen by an oral pathologist.

Hope this helps.

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Response by:

John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD
Clinical Professor of Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University

Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD Carl M Allen, DDS, MSD
Professor Emeritus of Oral Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University