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.”
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
True or false: there’s no cause for concern about tooth decay until your child’s permanent teeth erupt.
False—decayed primary teeth can lead to potentially serious consequences later in life.
Although “baby” teeth last only a few years, they’re essential to future dental health because they act as placeholders and guides for the incoming permanent teeth. If they’re lost prematurely due to decay, other teeth may drift into the empty space intended for the emerging permanent tooth. Because of this, inadequate space will crowd the out of proper alignment.
And because they have thinner enamel than permanent teeth, primary teeth are more susceptible to decay. Once decay sets in, it can spread rapidly in a matter of months.
Fortunately, we may be able to prevent this from happening to your child’s primary teeth with a few simple guidelines. It all begins with understanding the underlying causes of tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins with bacteria: As a result of their digestion, these microorganisms secrete acid that at high levels can erode tooth enamel. The higher the population of bacteria in the mouth, the higher the acidity and potential threat to the teeth.
The first objective then in preventing decay is to remove dental plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces, through daily brushing and flossing. And because bacteria feed on sugar as a primary food source, you should reduce your child’s sugar consumption by restricting it to only meal times and not sending your child to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula or breast milk).
To help boost your child’s protection, we can also apply sealants and fluoride to teeth to help protect and strengthen their enamel from acid attack. Because we’ll also monitor for signs of decay, it’s important to begin regular dental visits beginning around age one. If we do detect decay, we can then treat it and make every effort to preserve your child’s primary teeth until they’ve completed their normal life cycle.
By taking these steps, we can help make sure your child’s early teeth go the distance. Their current and future dental health will certainly benefit.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of tooth decay, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
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