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.”
Your child's permanent teeth come in gradually, starting just as they begin losing their primary ("baby") teeth and not ending until late adolescence or early adulthood. That's when the third molars or "wisdom teeth" close out the process.
Because of their late arrival, wisdom teeth have a high potential for dental problems. With a greater chance of crowding or obstruction by other teeth, wisdom teeth often get stuck fully or partially below the gums and bone (impaction) or erupt out of position. In one study, 7 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 30 will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth at some time in their lives.
It's not surprising then that wisdom teeth are among the most extracted teeth, to the tune of about 10 million per year. Besides those already diseased or causing bite problems, many are removed preemptively in an attempt to avoid future problems.
But wisdom teeth usually require surgical extraction by an oral surgeon, which is much more involved than a simple extraction by a general dentist. Given the potential consequences of surgical extraction, is it really necessary to remove a wisdom tooth not creating immediate problems?
That's not an easy question to answer because it's often difficult to predict a wisdom tooth's developmental track. Early on it can be disease-free and not causing any problems to other teeth. But as some researchers have found, one in three wisdom teeth at this stage will later develop disease or create other issues.
For many dentists, the best approach is to consider extraction on a case by case basis. Those displaying definite signs of problems are prime for removal. But where there are no signs of disease or other issues, the more prudent action may be to keep a watchful eye on their development and decide on extraction at some later date.
More than likely, your dentist will continue to have an ongoing discussion with you about the state of your child's wisdom teeth. While extraction is always an option, wisdom teeth that aren't yet a problem to dental health may be best left alone.
Teeth whitening or bleaching is one of the most affordable and least invasive ways of improving your smile. Although the effect fades with time, whitening can make dull and dingy teeth more attractive in short order.
Teeth whitening is also unique among cosmetic dental procedures in that you can do it yourself at home. While professional bleaching solutions are stronger and capable of greater brightness and longevity, you can still achieve good results with a DIY kit.
If you decide to whiten at home, though, there are a few things to keep mind for a desirable and safe outcome. Here are 3 tips for successful DIY teeth whitening.
Follow the directions. It's not a good idea, both for a successful and safe outcome, to stray away from a kit manufacturer's recommended directions. FDA-approved home kits usually contain 10% or less of carbamide peroxide (one of the more common bleaching agents). That may not seem very strong but it's adequate within the recommended time it remains on your teeth to achieve an effective whitening effect. Exceeding those directions could permanently damage your tooth enamel.
Make sure a home kit will work on your staining. Home whitening kits only affect outer staining on tooth enamel. But dental discoloration can also arise from inside a tooth, often because of trauma, tetracycline use, or as a side effect of a root canal treatment. This kind of internal staining requires a special procedure usually performed by an endodontist to reduce it. So, see your dentist first to make sure your teeth are healthy enough for whitening and that a home kit will work for you.
Get your dentist's advice on home kits. There are a number of whitening applications on the market you can choose, so ask your dentist for recommendations. They can also give you some helpful tips on the whitening process to ensure you'll be safe and successful in your efforts.
Here's a couple of other things to remember to enhance your teeth whitening experience: whether you whiten your teeth at home or with the dentist, be sure you continue to care for your teeth with daily brushing and flossing. And, if you limit your consumption of foods and beverages known to stain teeth, you'll help extend the duration of your brighter smile.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening procedures, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Teenagers and adults alike can improve their smile appearance with dental solutions like teeth whitening or orthodontics. But there are a few cosmetic solutions like porcelain veneers that are better suited for more mature teeth.
Veneers are composed of thin layers of dental porcelain that are bonded to the outside of teeth. They're kind of a tooth "mask" that hides blemishes like chips, discoloration or mild bite problems. They're often less involved and expensive than other types of dental restoration.
Even so, we usually need to remove some of the natural tooth's enamel before applying them. Veneers placed directly on unprepared teeth can appear bulky, so we remove some of the enamel to create a more natural look. And although usually only a slight amount, the alteration is permanent and will require the tooth to have some form of restoration from then on.
This usually doesn't pose a major issue for adults, but it could for a teenager's younger teeth. The nerve-filled dentin in a teenager's still developing tooth is thinner and closer to the pulp (nerve tissue) than in more mature teeth.
There's at least one situation, though, where veneers might be applied safely to a teenager's teeth without this concern. If the teen has abnormally small teeth and are receiving veneers to improve their appearance, they might not need alteration. Because the teeth are already thinner than normal, the "no-prep" veneers may not look bulky when directly bonded to them without preparation.
With most cases, though, it might be best to pursue other options that at the very least can make a cosmetic difference until their teeth are mature enough for veneers. For example, we might be able to repair chipped areas with composite resin material that we form and bond to the tooth to achieve a life-like appearance.
We can discuss these and other options for safely improving your teenager's smile. The important thing is to achieve a more confident appearance without endangering their future health.
If you would like more information on cosmetic treatments for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
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