There are a few mouth conditions so rare most of us have never heard of them. Geographic tongue would fall into this category, affecting only one to three percent of the population. Even so, these irregular reddish patches resembling land masses on a map (hence the name) might be alarming at first glance—but they pose no danger and usually cause very little discomfort.
Geographic tongue is also known as benign migratory glossitis. As its clinical name implies, the unusual red patchy areas (often surrounded by a grayish white border) aren't cancerous nor contagious. The patches also appear to change shape and move around ("migrate") the tongue.
The reddish appearance comes from the temporary disappearance of tiny bumps on the tongue surface called papillae, which can leave the tongue smooth to the touch in affected areas. The lost papillae may reappear again a few hours or days later, and may occasionally disappear again. While it's not painful, you can experience a stinging or burning sensation emitting from these patchy areas.
We're not sure how and why geographic tongue erupts, but it's believed high emotional or psychological stress, hormonal imbalance or certain vitamin deficiencies might be factors in its cause. There may also be a link between it and psoriasis, a condition that can cause dry, itchy patches on the skin.
If you're one of the rare individuals who has episodes of geographic tongue, the good news is it's harmless, only mildly uncomfortable and usually temporary. The bad news, though, is that there's no known cure for the condition—but it can be managed to ease discomfort during outbreaks.
It's been found that highly acidic and spicy foods, as well as astringents like alcohol or some mouthrinses, can increase the level of discomfort. By avoiding these or similar foods or substances, you can reduce the irritation. Your dentist may also be able to help by prescribing anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments.
For the most part, you'll simply have to wait it out. Other than the mild, physical discomfort, the worst part is often simply the appearance of the tongue. But by watching your diet and other habits, and with a little help from us, you can cope with these irritations when it occurs.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue and similar oral issues, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue: No Cause for Alarm.”
Think no one is looking at your smile when you’re out in public? Nick Jonas’ recent experience might convince you otherwise. While the Jonas Brothers were performing during the 2020 Grammys, fans watching on television picked up on some dark matter between his teeth.
To say Twitter lit up is an understatement. For many, it was that thing you couldn’t unsee: Forget the performance, what was that between his teeth? Jonas later fessed up by tweeting, “…At least you all know I eat my greens.”
We’re sure Nick and his brothers take care of their teeth, as most any high-profile entertainer would. You can probably attribute his dental faux pas to trying to squeeze in some nourishment during a rushed performance schedule.
Still, the Grammy incident (Spinachgate?) shows that people do notice when your teeth aren’t as clean as they should be. To avoid that embarrassment, here are some handy tips for keeping your teeth looking their best while you’re on the go.
Start with a clean mouth. You’re more apt to collect food debris during the day if you have built-up plaque on your teeth. This sticky bacterial biofilm attracts new food particles like a magnet. Remove plaque by thoroughly brushing and flossing before you head out the door.
Rinse after eating. Although your saliva helps clear leftover food from your mouth, it may not adequately flush away all the debris. You can assist this process by swishing and rinsing with clean water after a meal.
Keep a little floss handy. Even after rinsing, stubborn bits of food can remain lodged between teeth. So just in case, keep a small bit of emergency floss (or a floss pick) in your purse or wallet to remove any debris you see or feel between your teeth.
Watch what you eat. Some foods—like popcorn, sticky snacks or fibrous vegetables—are notorious for sticking in teeth. Try to avoid eating these foods right before a public appearance where your smile may be critical.
And here’s an added bonus: Not only will these tips help keep your smile attractive on the go, they’ll also help keep it healthy. Rinsing with water, for example, helps lower your mouth’s acid level after eating, a prime factor in tooth decay. And flossing, both as a regular practice and for occasional stuck food, decreases plaque and subsequently your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Remember, a healthy mouth is the starting place for a beautiful smile. Keep it that way with dedicated hygiene habits at home or on the go.
National Physical Fitness & Sports Month in May, sponsored by the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, is a fitting time to encourage us to play sports. Many of us already feel the Spring itch to get out there and get involved. Unfortunately, an increase in sports or exercise activities also means an increase in potential physical injury risks, including to the face and mouth.
Although COVID-19 protective measures are delaying group sports, there's hope that many leagues will be able to salvage at least part of their season. If so, you should know what to do to keep yourself or a family member safe from oral and dental injuries.
First and foremost, wear a sports mouthguard, a plastic device worn in the mouth to reduce hard impacts from other players or sports equipment. A custom-fitted guard made by a dentist offers the best level of protection and the most comfortable fit.
But even though wearing a mouthguard significantly lowers the chances of mouth injuries, they can still occur. It's a good idea, then, to know what to do in the event of an oral injury.
Soft tissues. If the lips, cheeks, gums or tongue are cut or bruised, first carefully clean the wound of dirt or debris (be sure to check debris for any tooth pieces). If the wound bleeds, place some clean cotton gauze against it until it stops. If the wound is deep, the person may need stitches and possible antibiotic treatments or a tetanus shot. When in doubt, visit the ER.
Jaws. A hard blow could move the lower jaw out of its socket, or even fracture either jaw. Either type of injury, often accompanied by pain, swelling or deformity, requires medical attention. Treating a dislocation is usually a relatively simple procedure performed by a doctor, but fractures often involve a more extensive, long-term treatment.
Teeth. If a tooth is injured, try to collect and clean off any tooth pieces you can find, and call us immediately. If a tooth is knocked out, pick it up by the crown end, clean it off, and place it back into the empty socket. Have the person gently but firmly clench down on it and call the office or go to the ER as quickly as possible. Prompt attention is also needed for teeth moved out of alignment by a hard blow.
Playing sports has obvious physical, mental and social benefits. Don't let an oral injury rob you or a family member of those benefits. Take precautions and know what to do during a dental emergency.
If you would like more information about, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Dental Injuries: Field-Side Pocket Guide.”
Gum recession is a serious oral condition in which the gums shrink back or “recede” from their normal position around the teeth. Because they're the primary protection for teeth below the enamel, this can expose the teeth to infection or cause painful sensitivity. And receded gums most certainly can diminish your smile.
But there are preventive measures you can adopt that might help you avoid this unpleasant condition. Here are 4 things you can do to minimize your risk for gum recession.
Practice daily oral hygiene. The main cause for recession is gum disease, a bacterial infection that weakens gum attachment to teeth. Gum disease usually arises from dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Removing it every day with brushing and flossing minimizes the risk of gum disease and gum recession.
But don't overdo it. Although brushing is key to keeping your mouth healthy, too hard and too often can damage your gums and lead to recession. A little “elbow grease” may be appropriate for other cleaning tasks, but not your teeth—use gentle strokes and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the main removal work. And avoid brushing more than twice a day.
See your dentist regularly. Your personal care efforts are a major part of preventing gum recession, but you can greatly increase the effect with professional dental care. That's because with even the best hygiene practice infections and other gum problems can still arise. You may also have inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents that increase your disease risk and bear closer monitoring.
Act quickly at the first signs of disease. Gum disease is a progressive disease, and it doesn't take long for it to become intrenched. The sooner it can be treated, the less likely you'll experience recession. So, make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice your gums are swollen, red or painful, or if they bleed easily after brushing.
There are ways to reverse gum recession. But many treatments like grafting surgery to regenerate new gum tissues can be quite involved and expensive. Following these tips can help you avoid gum recession altogether or stop it before it goes that far.
If you would like more information on how to avoid gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.
But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.
The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.
This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.
For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.
These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.
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