Posts for: August, 2014
Picture this: You’re feeling some mild irritation in your mouth, which seems to be coming from the area near your tongue. You go to the mirror, open wide… and notice a series of red patches on the tongue’s surface, which are surrounded by whitish borders. Should you drop what you’re doing and rush to get medical help right away?
Sure, a visit to the dentist might be a good idea to rule out more serious problems — but first, sit down and relax for a moment. Chances are what you’re experiencing is an essentially harmless condition called “benign migratory glossitis,” which is also known by its common name — geographic tongue. While it may look unusual, geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition: It’s not cancerous or contagious, and it doesn’t generally lead to more severe health problems. However, it can make your tongue feel a bit more sensitive, and may occasionally lead to mild sensations of burning, stinging or numbness.
The appearance of reddish patches on the tongue results from the temporary loss of structures called papillae: tiny bumps which normally cover the tongue’s surface. These patches may appear or disappear over the course of days — or even hours — and sometimes appear to change their shape or location.
What causes geographic tongue? Several factors seem to be responsible for setting off the problem, but as of yet the actual cause of the disease is unknown. Among these triggers are emotional stress and psychological upsets, hormonal disturbances, and deficiencies in zinc or vitamin B. The condition, which affects between one and three percent of the population, is seen more frequently in non-smokers, in women, and in those with a family history of the problem. It is also associated with people who suffer from psoriasis, a common skin condition, and those who have a fissured (deeply grooved) tongue.
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for geographic tongue — but the good news is that treatment is usually unnecessary. If you’re experiencing this condition, it may help if you avoid foods with high levels of acidity (like tomatoes and citrus fruits), as well as hot and spicy foods. Alcohol and other astringent substances (like some mouthwashes) may also aggravate it.
While geographic tongue isn’t a serious condition, it can cause worry and discomfort. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to come into the office and have it checked, just to make sure. A thorough examination can put your mind at ease, and rule out other conditions that may be more of a concern. We may be also able to help you manage this condition by prescribing anesthetic mouth rinses, antihistamines, or other treatments.
If you would like more information about geographic tongue, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Geographic Tongue.”
Lots of people collect Beatles memorabilia, but one Canadian dentist took this hobby to new heights recently when he paid $31,200 for John Lennon's molar at auction. According to published reports, Lennon had given the extracted tooth to his housekeeper as a souvenir in the 1960s after coming home from the dentist's office. The molar was discolored and had a cavity, according to the dentist who purchased it after the housekeeper's family put it up for bids. “For the cavity to be this large he probably wasn't seeing a dentist that regularly,” the dentist said. His brushing and flossing routine may not have been that conscientious either!
For healthy teeth, it's important to have a good daily oral hygiene routine at home and regular professional cleanings here at the office. Our hygienist will scale your teeth to remove hard deposits (tartar), and polish them to remove stains for a wonderful, extra-clean feeling.
Dental hygienists are trained to do lots of other things to promote your oral health besides cleaning your teeth. They can check the skin in and around your mouth looking for any suspicious bumps, sores, etc., that may need further evaluation. They will also evaluate your periodontal health (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth), checking for signs of gum inflammation and bleeding (gingivitis). And they monitor teeth for signs of decay, which is actually the world's most widespread disease.
Cavities, or dental caries as it is also known, are the most notable consequences of tooth decay. Left untreated, caries can lead to pain and tooth loss. John Lennon's dentist must have believed there was nothing more to be done for the badly decayed molar that later went on to fetch such a high price.
Unless you're a rock star, your teeth are worth a lot more in a healthy and functioning state — inside your mouth! So if it's been a while since your last appointment, please come in and see us. Remember: Good dental health is priceless.
If you would like more information on tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article, “Tooth Decay.” Dear Doctor also has more on the “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
We’ve all heard about potentially negative health effects from the sugar that’s added to many of our favorite foods. So these days, lots of us are trying to cut down on our consumption of sugar — not only to lose weight, but also to help prevent maladies like diabetes and heart disease. We can’t help noticing those pastel-colored packets — pink, yellow and blue — on the rack of our favorite coffee shop. But now we’re wondering: Are those sugar substitutes a good alternative to natural sugar? And which one should we choose?
Artificial sweeteners have been around for decades. Six different types (including the ones in the colorful packets) are currently approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration; a couple of older ones (notably cyclamates) have been banned for many years. In addition to those zero-calorie sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners called sugar alcohols (for example, mannitol and xylitol) are often used as food ingredients. So what’s the difference between them — and which one is best?
That’s not so easy to answer. If you have a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria, you should avoid aspartame (the blue packet), because your body can’t process the substance. Otherwise, the choice may come down to a matter of taste. Even though they are FDA-approved, some controversy (both fact-based and far-fetched) remains about the long-term safety of sugar substitutes, and their usefulness in preventing obesity and other diseases.
Yet it’s clear that for some people, the consequences of consuming too much sugar could be much worse. So if you’re at risk for diabetes or certain other diseases, sugar substitutes can be an important tool in maintaining a healthier diet. They also have another health benefit: sugar substitutes don’t cause cavities. Further, some sugar alcohols (xylitol in particular) have the property of stimulating saliva flow, and have been shown to actually impede the formation of cavities. Oral health is an important (if sometimes overlooked) component of your general well-being, and several studies have pointed to a link between oral and systemic diseases — for example, diabetes and heart disease.
As with so many aspects of our health, there seems to be no “magic bullet” to cure all our diet-related problems. But used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be a valuable part of the effort to improve our overall health and well-being. For more information on this topic, see the Dear Doctor article “Artificial Sweeteners.”