If you're intrigued by the strange and bizarre, here's one to pique your interest: geographic tongue. It's a rare condition that causes the appearance of red patches on the tongue surface, surrounded by grayish-white borders, and which look a lot like continents on a map (hence the name). But although it may look odd, geographic tongue won't harm your health.
The condition is also known as benign migratory glossitis, so named because it's not cancerous and the patches seem to move or “migrate” around the tongue surface. The most common causes are thought to be stress or hormonal disruptions in those predisposed to the condition. Many researchers believe zinc or vitamin B deficiencies in the body contribute to its occurrence. It also seems more prevalent among non-smokers and pregnant women, as well as occurring as a family trait.
The red patches are created by the temporary disappearance of some of the papillae, tiny bumps on the tongue's top surface. The patches can abruptly appear during a flareup and then disappear just as suddenly. But as “angry” as the patches may look, geographic tongue is not considered a health danger. It isn't normally painful, although people can experience stinging or numbing sensations emanating from the patches that can be mildly uncomfortable.
Because it's also rare, you're not likely to encounter it personally. But if you or a loved one does begin to notice red patches on the tongue, there are a few things you can do to lessen any accompanying irritation. For one, cut out foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, eggplant, mint or highly spicy or acidic foods, all of which have been known to increase discomfort. You might also avoid astringents like alcohol or mouthwashes that likewise irritate the patches when they occur.
Although geographic tongue can't be cured, your dentist can help you manage symptoms when they arise with the help of prescribed anesthetic mouthwashes, antihistamines or steroid lozenges. These not only can help lower any discomfort or irritations, they may also lessen the duration of a flareup.
For the most part, geographic tongue usually causes more embarrassment than physical discomfort. But with a little help from your dentist, you can keep it to a minimum. Geographic tongue may be odd, but it's nothing to worry about.
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: No Cause For Alarm.”
Knowing what to do—and what not to do—when your child is sick can greatly affect their health and well-being. That's especially true with dental problems.
Here then are some Dos and Don'ts for 3 common problems children experience with their teeth and gums.
Teething. An infant's first teeth breaking through the gums is a normal but often unpleasant experience. Fortunately, teething episodes only last a few days. And, there's usually no need to see the dentist unless they have a fever or diarrhea while teething. In the meantime:
- Do: provide them chilled (not frozen) cloth or plastic items to bite and gnaw, and massage their gums to relieve painful pressure. You can also give them an age-appropriate dose of a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub any medication on their gums, which can irritate them and other soft tissues. Never use alcohol or aspirin to alleviate teething discomfort. And avoid using anything with benzocaine, a numbing agent which can be hazardous to young children.
Toothache. Whether a momentary sensitivity to hot or cold or a sharp, throbbing pain, a child's toothache often signals tooth decay, a bacterial disease which could eventually lead to tooth loss.
- Do: make a dental appointment at your child's first complaint of a toothache. Ease the pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the jaw, or a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub medication on the teeth or gums (for similar reasons as with teething). Don't apply ice or heat directly to the affected tooth or gums, which can burn them.
Bleeding gums. Gum bleeding from normal brushing or flossing, along with red or swollen gums, may indicate periodontal (gum) disease. Although rare in children, it can still happen—and it can put an affected tooth in danger.
- Do: see your dentist if bleeding continues for a few days. Continue to brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush around the gums to remove plaque, a thin-biofilm most responsible for gum infection.
- Don't: brush aggressively or more than twice a day, which could unnecessarily irritate and damage the gums. And don't stop brushing—it's important to remove plaque buildup daily to lessen the gum infection.
Although they can be expensive upfront, dental implants often prove to be a wise investment in the long-term. With a success rate that outperforms other teeth replacement restorations, dental implants could be the answer to a more attractive smile that could last for decades.
But while their success rate is high (95% still functioning after ten years), they can and do occasionally fail. Of those that do, two-thirds happen in patients who smoke.
This unfortunate situation stems from smoking's overall effect on dental health. The nicotine in tobacco constricts oral blood vessels, inhibiting the flow of nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Inhaled smoke can scald the inside skin of the mouth, thickening its surface layers and damaging salivary glands leading to dry mouth.
These and other effects increase the risk for tooth decay or gum disease, which in turn makes it more likely that a smoker will lose teeth than a non-smoker and require a restoration like dental implants. And blood flow restriction caused by nicotine in turn can complicate the implant process.
Long-term implant durability depends on bone growth around the imbedded implant in the ensuing weeks after implant surgery. Because of their affinity with the titanium used in implants, bone cells readily grow and adhere to the implant. This integration process anchors the implant securely in place. But because of restricted blood flow, the healing process involved in bone integration can be impaired in smokers. Less integration may result in less stability for the implant and its long-term durability.
To increase your chances of a successful implant installation, you should consider quitting smoking and other tobacco products altogether before implant surgery. If that's too difficult, then cease from smoking for at least one week before surgery and two weeks after to better your odds of implant success. And be as meticulous as possible with daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits, to reduce your risk of disease.
There are many good reasons to quit smoking. If nothing else, do it to improve your dental health.
If you would like more information on tobacco use and dental health, 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 “Dental Implants & Smoking.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Over the years, dentists have become quite proficient in treating even the most severe periodontal (gum) disease. Many of these positive outcomes are achieved through manual effort using simple hand instruments called scalars and conventional periodontal surgery.
But that might be changing soon: Periodontists (specialists who care for the gums and other supporting dental structures) are starting to use a different kind of tool for gum disease treatment—surgical lasers.
Although lasers are more commonplace in other fields of medicine, recent developments hint at a more prominent future role for them in dentistry. One of these developments is a laser procedure called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) that treats deep spaces of infection called periodontal pockets, which develop advanced gum disease.
These pockets form as infected gums gradually detach from a tooth as the supporting bone is lost. This widens the normally narrow gap between the teeth and gums. The ensuing pocket fills with infection that must be removed to adequately treat the gum disease. As the pocket extends down to the root, it's often necessary to perform a surgical procedure through the adjacent gum tissue to fully access it.
But with the LANAP® procedure, the dentist can use a laser to access a deep pocket without opening the gums. Moving from above into the gap between the tooth and gums, the light from the laser has the ability to remove diseased tissue without damaging healthy tissue.
The dentist follows this with ultrasonic equipment and manual scalers to further decontaminate the tooth root surface. The laser is then employed once again to facilitate the formation of a blood clot between the teeth and gums to seal the area with a fibrin clot. Once treated, the dentist will monitor the tooth to ensure maximum bone regeneration and gum reattachment.
Although outcomes are the same for the most part, this laser technique for periodontal pockets may have some advantages over conventional surgery. Studies so far show that LANAP® causes less tissue removal and bleeding, less potential for gum recession and less discomfort experienced by patients.
It's not likely that lasers will fully replace conventional gum disease treatments any time soon. But if the encouraging evidence thus far continues, the laser will one day become as commonplace alongside the other tools used for gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on treatments for gum 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 “Treating Gum Disease With Lasers.”
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