Dark or Black Gums: Potential Causes & Treatment Options

Dark or Black Gums: Potential Causes & Treatment Options
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Dark or Black Gums: Potential Causes & Treatment OptionsClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Why Are Some Gums Darker or Black?
  2. Naturally Darker Gums Mean More Melanin
  3. Other Gum Pigment Changes Mean Health Changes
  4. Talk to Your Dentist if You Are Worried
  5. References

Many people with more melanin in their skin naturally have darker pigmentation in their gums, and they have all their lives. Unfortunately, “healthy gums” are advertised as pink, so some people may pursue cosmetic procedures to lighten their gums, which can actually cause damage to gums or teeth. For some people, darker gums are normal and signify healthy gums.

However, it is not normal for gums to suddenly change color or become darker in patches. If these changes occur, contact your dentist. There may be an underlying health change that needs a diagnosis and treatment.

Why Are Some Gums Darker or Black?

When learning about healthy gums and gum disease, most dental information states that healthy gums are pink. Typically, this means “pink” in contrast to “red” or gums that have developed a different color over months or years. However, this term excludes the actual healthy range of gum colors, so many people with darker gums might begin to worry about their oral health.

Just like skin tone, gums come in a wide range of colors. If your gums change color, though, you may have an oral health issue that your dentist needs to address.
Changes in your teeth, gums, tongue, and other parts of your mouth are more noticeable to your dentist if you visit them at least once a year, for multiple years. If you have a new dentist, you can discuss any changes in your gums that you have noticed, and they can work with you on understanding the cause.

Naturally Darker Gums Mean More Melanin

Although the terms dark gums and black gums might sound bad, most people who have dark gums just naturally have more melanin. This might mean they have naturally darker skin along with darker gums, or they have darker gums with more olive or pale skin.

Usually, when someone has darker gums, they have had gums with this pigmentation since childhood, although gums might also slowly darken with age.

Unfortunately, because the standard of beauty insists that pink is a healthy color for your gums, the beauty industry now has cosmetic solutions to lighten gum color. Occasionally pursuing cosmetic treatments to lighten gums might not be harmful to your oral health, as occasionally bleaching your teeth is not harmful. However, frequent lightening treatments can make gums more sensitive and cause enamel loss on the teeth.

If your gums are naturally darker and healthy, there is no medical reason to pursue gum lightening treatments.

Other Gum Pigment Changes Mean Health Changes

People who have naturally darker or even black gums might experience slow darkening over time, as they get older. But if your gums suddenly change color, develop dark or black patches, or become darker along with other symptoms like gum sensitivity or recession, there may be a problem with your oral health that requires attention from a dentist.

Here are some potential health issues that can make your gums darker or black:

  • Bruises: Everyone develops bruises occasionally, from accidentally running into a piece of furniture or from a more serious accident. Your gums can bruise just like your skin if they are accidentally impacted, and this might make your gums temporarily darker. Bruising might also occur if you have a dental device like clear aligners that do not fit properly and hurt your gums. If you do accidentally injure your face or mouth, you should visit a dentist just to be sure there is no other damage to your teeth or jaw. During this visit, you can ask them to make sure your darkened gums are from bruising.
  • Amalgam tattoo: This term might seem like an intentional decoration on the gums, but it is actually an accidental dark, bluish, or black pigmentation spot on the gums after you receive a metal filling. It is caused by some of the filling material becoming embedded in the gums or surrounding soft tissue. The stain may last for a long time, but it is harmless.
  • Tobacco use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, vape pens, or using chewing tobacco can all cause damage to the gums that might make them change color. This might come from stains from tobacco or other chemicals in the product, but it can also come from periodontitis, a serious type of gum infection that can damage overall oral health and lead to tooth loss.
  • Addison’s disease: This is a rare genetic condition that affects the adrenal glands, and it is sometimes also called hypoadrenalism. One symptom of Addison’s disease is darkening pigmentation in your gums, lips, or parts of your skin. This is typically accompanied by more common symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, low mood, unintentional weight loss, and increased thirst.
  • Oral cancer: A black spot that forms on the gums might be a melanoma, which is a sign of oral cancer. This might be accompanied by lesions on the gums, pain, bleeding gums, or other changes in your oral health. Even if it appears without other symptoms, you should report a black spot that looks like a melanoma to your dentist, so they can rule out other causes and refer you to specialists if necessary.

Talk to Your Dentist if You Are Worried

Typically, if you have pigment changes to your gums (especially if they are sudden), you have other symptoms alongside them like pain or bleeding, or the changes occur in spots rather than consistently over your gums, get in touch with your dentist for a checkup. Changes in your gums might indicate another underlying health condition, like Addison’s disease or cancer, or it could be gingivitis, which benefits from a dental treatment plan.

While darker, black, or dark brown gums are often normal for many people, any sudden change in your gum’s color could mean a change in your health.

General References

Here’s Why Some People Have Black Gums. (August 2017). Business Insider.

Amalgam Tattoo Overview. (2019). Head and Neck Pathology (Third Edition).

Overview: Addison’s Disease. (June 2018). National Health Service (NHS).

Oral Malignant Melanoma. Oral Cancer Foundation.

Primary Oral Malignant Melanoma: Two Case Reports and Review of Literature. (July 2012). Hindawi.

Medical References

Measurement of Reduced Gingival Melanosis after Smoking Cessation: A Novel Analysis of Gingival Pigmentation Using Clinical Oral Photographs. (June 2016). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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