If you occasionally notice mildly irritating red patches on the top surface of your tongue, you may be one of the three percent or less of the population with a condition called benign migratory glossitis. It’s also known as “geographic tongue” because the red patches often resemble land masses on a world map.
While the symptoms may be discomforting, geographic tongue isn’t a cause for serious concern. The red patches are caused by the temporary loss of papillae, tiny bumps that grow on the surface of the tongue, which may appear and disappear repeatedly over a short time period (ranging from hours to days). As its medical name implies, this form of glossitis isn’t cancerous or contagious; it’s referred to as “migratory” because the red patches often appear to move around while changing size and shape. An outbreak can cause a mild burning or stinging sensation, and some people also encounter numbness in the patchy areas.
While there isn’t a firm consensus as to geographic tongue’s exact cause, there do appear to be triggers for it including stress, hormonal changes and mineral or vitamin deficiencies (particularly zinc and Vitamin B). There also seems to be a connection with psoriasis, a skin ailment characterized by redness and scaling — a number of people will experience both conditions. Geographic tongue appears more often in middle-aged, non-smoking adults, particularly women during hormonal fluctuations (as during pregnancy or ovulation). Individuals with deep grooves on their tongues called fissures are more susceptible as well.
There’s no cure for the condition, but there are some treatments that can help alleviate any accompanying irritation. Depending on what we find during examination, we may prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines, steroid ointments or other treatments to help manage discomfort. It may also be helpful to limit your intake of foods during outbreaks that may increase irritation, including high acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus fruit, as well as eggplant, mint, spicy foods and alcohol (including certain mouthwashes).
If you experience these occasional patchy outbreaks on your tongue, please schedule a visit with us for a full examination. We may be able to reduce your discomfort and certainly put your mind at ease.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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.”
Although sometimes controversial, body piercing has exploded in popularity, especially among young people. Aside from the social debate about such practices, there are health risks to consider. Oral piercings, in particular — especially of the tongue — could have an adverse effect on your dental health.
The trouble begins with the piercing procedure itself. The tongue is composed of a number of muscle groups that given its wide range of function require a lot of energy. To supply this energy the tongue has a large network of blood vessels; during a piercing it's not uncommon for profuse bleeding to occur. The tongue also contains a lot of nerve fibers — a piercing may result not only in severe pain, but in possible nerve damage too.
The tongue bolt, the most common tongue piercing, can cause a lot of damage in the mouth during wear, such as tooth chipping and increased sensitivity. It can also interfere with oral hygiene and contribute to the growth of tooth decay and gum disease. And, as with any cut or abrasion to soft tissue, piercings increase the risk of infection.
There are also issues if and when you decide to give up the tongue bolt — fortunately, though, not to the same degree as during wear. Cuts to the tongue tend to heal quickly, so the piercing hole may fill in spontaneously. In some circumstances, however, a surgical procedure (similar to one performed on large ear piercings) may be required to repair the piercing hole.
For the long-term sake of your oral health, we would advise against having your tongue or lips pierced. And, if you already have a piercing, please consider giving it up — in the long run you'll be doing your teeth, gums and other tissues in your mouth a favor.
If you would like more information on oral piercing and its effects, 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Billions of bacteria live in each of our mouths, sharing a common environment with teeth and soft tissues. Most of the time, they coexist in symbiotic balance. But sometimes that balance becomes disrupted, leading to a destructive condition known as periodontal disease.
From the Latin peri (“around”) and the Greek odont (“tooth”), periodontal refers to the tissues that are around the teeth. When they become diseased, it's a serious matter; and not just because of potential tooth loss — there is evidence that periodontal disease has links to cardiovascular disease and, for pregnant women, low birth weights in pre-term babies.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, like smoking, poor nutrition, and your systemic health. The biggest factor, however, is increased bacterial plaque due to poor oral hygiene practices.
Periodontal disease is progressive. As unhealthy bacteria levels increase, the bacteria eventually cause bone loss, the gums separate from the teeth and create what is referred to as periodontal pockets. As the pockets deepen around the teeth, plaque and tartar become extremely difficult to remove, even if you resume a proper hygiene routine. At this stage, treating the disease will require a different approach. And if left untreated, the teeth will most likely continue to lose bone and eventually be lost.
Through a dental exam, we can determine the presence and extent of the disease and recommend a treatment strategy. Besides lifestyle changes and better hygiene habits, this strategy might also include treatment with antibiotics, a thorough mechanical cleaning to remove tartar and plaque, surgical techniques to remove infected tissue, or occlusal bite therapy.
Above all, prevention is the key. Through proper dental hygiene and regular dental exams and cleanings, stopping periodontal disease from beginning in the first place is your best defense.
If you would like more information on the treatment of periodontal disease, 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 “Understanding Gum Disease.”
Do you have silver dental fillings that you wish you didn't have? Wouldn't it be nice if no one could look in your mouth and see how many cavities you had as a kid? Tooth-colored fillings may offer a solution to the problem of too much metal in your mouth. How much do you really know about non-metallic tooth-colored fillings? Take our quiz and find out.
True or false: Tooth-colored fillings are a radical new technology.
False. A variety of dental porcelains and composite resins have been successfully used in tooth restoration for many years. These materials have been designed to mimic the properties of the two major components of teeth: the hard outer enamel, and the bone-like inner dentin. Our increasing understanding of tooth structure and composition has led to better and more natural-looking filling substances.
True or false: Teeth must remain rigid under the pressure of the bite.
False. At one time, metal amalgam (silver) fillings were preferred because of their extreme hardness. But we now know that the crowns of our teeth actually flex under the forces of the bite. This discovery has spurred the development of new methods and materials to stabilize the restored tooth and reduce the incidence of premature failure.
True or false: It's usually more complicated to put in a tooth-colored filling than a metal one.
False. Regardless of which material is used, the basic process of filling a tooth is the same. The dentist prepares the tooth for treatment, removes decay, and places a filling directly into the tooth. If the filling is moderately deep, a tooth-colored filling may be set in several layers which are successively “cured” or hardened. More extensive restorations may require more than one visit, but the natural-looking results generally justify the extra time.
True or false: Regular metal fillings make the tooth structure stronger.
False. Properly securing an amalgam filling may require the tooth to be “undercut,” meaning that a greater amount of healthy tooth material must be removed. This can weaken the tooth structure, eventually leading it to chip and crack. Non-metallic fillings don't require undercutting, so more tooth structure is left intact. This more conservative treatment can result in a stronger, longer-lasting restoration.
True or false: Non-metallic (tooth-colored) fillings are safer than silver fillings.
False. While each method has advantages and disadvantages, and may not be an appropriate treatment in every situation, both methods have been deemed safe and effective by major U.S. and international science and health organizations. While there have been recent concerns about mercury in amalgam fillings, there is presently no reason to believe that it presents any cause for concern.
If you would like more information about tooth-colored fillings, 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 “The Natural Beauty of Tooth-Colored Fillings.”
Q: I’ve heard about dental implants, but I’m still not sure exactly what they are. Can you explain?
A: It’s no wonder you’ve heard of them: Dental implants have been called the most exciting advance in dentistry in the last 50 years! Essentially, the implant itself is a small, screw-shaped post that is placed in the jaw bone (underneath the gums), and serves as a replacement for the tooth’s roots. It is attached to a lifelike crown (a replacement for the visible part of the tooth) via a sturdy connector called an abutment. Dental implants offer results that can last a lifetime, and have the highest documented success rate of any tooth replacement system — over 95%.
Q: How does a dental implant work?
A: A few decades ago, it was discovered that titanium metal has a unique property: It can actually become fused to living bone tissue in a process called osseointegration. Implants are made of titanium, and take advantage of this feature. Solidly anchored in place by both osseointegration and mechanical forces, dental implants provide a strong and durable base for several different kinds of natural-looking and fully functional replacement teeth.
Q: What are dental implants used for?
A: One dental implant can be used to replace just one missing tooth with a crown that matches your own teeth. Two or more dental implants can be used to support a fixed bridge (a series of three or more replacement teeth) without requiring any work to be done on the adjacent, healthy teeth. Four or more implants can support an entire arch (complete top or bottom set) of replacement teeth that won’t slip and will never need to be removed — a great alternative to traditional removable dentures! Implants can also be used to support some kinds of removable dentures, and in certain orthodontic procedures.
Q: What is the procedure for getting a dental implant?
A: The implant process begins with a consultation, a thorough exam, and a set of diagnostic images. Placing one or more implants involves minor surgery, which is typically performed in the dental office and requires only local anesthesia. After the area has been numbed, a small opening is made in the tissue of gums and jaw bone, and the implant is carefully inserted. In some situations, a temporary replacement tooth may be placed on the implant immediately; otherwise, the implant will be allowed to rest for a period of weeks. In either case, the permanent replacement teeth will be secured to the implants at a subsequent visit.
Q: What are the advantages of an implant over other tooth replacement methods?
A: We already mentioned the high success rate and the long life of dental implants. Another advantage is the fact that implants stop the deterioration of bone in the jaw that inevitably follows tooth loss. Bone loss, a “hidden” consequence of tooth loss, is what tends to make people who are missing teeth look older than they really are. Implants need no special care beyond what you would give your natural teeth, and their longevity can make them a cost-effective investment in the long term. Plus, they look, function and “feel” just like your natural teeth.
If you’d like to find out more about dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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