If you've ever been alarmed to find oddly-shaped red patches on your tongue, you can relax for the most part. Most likely, you're part of a small fraction of the population with a condition known as geographic tongue.
The name comes from the irregular shape of the patches that seem to resemble land formations on a map. Its medical name is benign migratory glossitis, which actually describes a lot about the condition. The patches are actually areas of inflammation on the tongue (“glossus” – tongue; “itis” – swelling) that appear to move around or migrate. They're actually made up of areas where the tiny bumps (papillae) you normally feel have disappeared: the patches feel flat and smooth compared to the rest of the tongue.
We're not sure why geographic tongue occurs. It often runs in families and seems to occur mostly in middle-aged adults, particularly women and non-smokers. It's believed to have a number of triggers like emotional stress, hormonal disturbances or vitamin or mineral deficiencies. There may also be a link between it and the skin condition psoriasis. Under a microscope the red patchiness of both appears to be very similar in pattern; the two conditions often appear together.
The bad news is we can't cure geographic tongue. But the good news is the condition is benign, meaning it's not cancerous; it's also not contagious. It poses no real health threat, although outbreaks can be uncomfortable causing your tongue to feel a little sensitive to the touch with a burning or stinging sensation. Some people may also experience numbness.
Although we can't make geographic tongue go away permanently, you should come by for an examination to confirm that is the correct diagnosis. Once we know for sure that you do have migratory glossitis, we can effectively manage discomfort when it flares up. You should limit your intake of foods with high acidity like tomatoes or citrus fruits, as well as astringents like alcohol or certain mouthrinses. We can also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments if the discomfort becomes more bothersome.
It may look strange, but geographic tongue is harmless. With the right care it can be nothing more than a minor annoyance.
If you would like more information on benign migratory glossitis, 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.”
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
You know the basics of great oral hygiene: Brush and floss daily; see your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups; and watch your diet, especially sweets.
While these are the basics for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, there are a few lesser known things you can do to enhance your hygiene efforts. Here are 4 extra tips for better hygiene.
Use the right toothbrush. As the old saying goes, “There's a right tool for every job.” Brushing your teeth is no exception. Most people do well with a soft-bristled, multi-tufted toothbrush with a head small enough to maneuver easily in their mouth. Toothbrushes wear out, so switch to a new one every three to six months or if the bristles become too soft or worn.
…And the right brushing technique. Hard scrubbing might apply to housework, but not your teeth. Over-aggressive brushing can lead to gum recession. A gentle, sustained effort of about two minutes on all tooth surfaces is sufficient to remove plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease.
Wait a while to brush after eating. Before hopping up from the meal table to brush, consider this: eating many foods increases mouth acid that can erode your teeth enamel. Fortunately, your body has a solution — saliva, which neutralizes mouth acid and helps restore minerals to your enamel. But saliva takes thirty minutes to an hour to complete the buffering process. If you brush before then you could brush away miniscule amounts of softened minerals from your enamel. So wait about an hour to brush, especially after consuming acidic foods or beverages.
Drink plenty of water. Your mouth needs a constant, moist environment for optimal health. But smoking, alcohol and caffeine can cause dry mouth. Certain drugs, too, can have mouth dryness as a side effect. A dry mouth is more susceptible to plaque formation that can cause disease. To avoid this, be sure you drink plenty of water during the day, especially as you grow older.
If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Durable as well as life-like, dental implants are by far the preferred method for replacing missing teeth. But they can be costly and, although not as much, so can traditional bridgework. Is there an effective but more affordable means to replace a few missing teeth?
There is: a removable partial denture (RPD). In fact, RPDs have always been the less expensive alternative to bridgework and implants. Today's RPDs are usually made of vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy. Because of the metal's characteristics, we can create an appliance that precisely matches the contours of your gums, is thin and hardly noticeable. We anchor prosthetic (false) teeth made of porcelain, resins or plastics in acrylic or nylon that resembles gum tissue.
The most important aspect of an RPD is to design it to produce the least amount of movement in your mouth as you eat or speak. A good design will minimize pressure on both the underlying bone (which can accelerate bone loss) and on the remaining teeth that support the RPD. Although a little more costly, it may be advantageous to use a dental implant to stabilize a lower partial denture when no end tooth is available for support.
To get the most out of your RPD — and to prevent dental disease — it's important for you to practice diligent daily hygiene. RPD attachments can make remaining teeth more susceptible to plaque accumulation, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that can cause tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. To avoid this you should remove the RPD and thoroughly brush and floss your remaining teeth. You should clean the RPD every day with recommended cleansers. You should also take it out at night while you sleep to discourage further bacterial or fungal growth.
Besides daily care for your RPD and natural teeth, be sure to visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. Taking care of both your appliance and your mouth will help ensure your RPD serves you for many years to come.
If you would like more information on removable partial dentures or other restoration options, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
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