Mouth & Tongue

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The health of your mouth and your overall wellbeing may be more closely connected than you realise. According to the American Dental Association , numerous recent scientific studies indicate associations between oral health and a variety of general health conditions – including diabetes and heart disease.

This section gives you further details to help you improve the health of your mouth. The following pages offer tips to prevent sores of the mouth, lip and tongue from occurring, such as using a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoiding acidic or dry, sharp foods that may cause irritation.

Because there are numerous problems that can affect your tongue, there is also information on a variety of common tongue problems, including their symptoms and causes.

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In general, sores of the mouth, lip and tongue have no cure and often reoccur. Despite this, you may be able to reduce their frequency with the tips below:

  • Follow good oral hygiene habits: Regular brushing after meals and flossing once a day can keep your mouth clean and free of foods that might trigger a sore. Use a soft-bristled brush to help prevent irritation to delicate mouth tissues, and avoid toothpastes and mouth rinses that contain sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Avoid foods that cause irritation: Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding foods that seem to irritate your mouth. These may include foods that have a lot of acid (such as citrus fruits or tomatoes) and sharp, dry or harsh foods (such as bread crusts, corn chips, or potato chips). Also, stay away from any foods to which you're sensitive or allergic.
  • Don't chew and talk at the same time: Chew your food slowly and carefully. Try not to talk and chew at the same time as this may cause minor trauma to the delicate lining of your mouth.
  • Reduce your stress: If your mouth sores seem to be related to stress, learn and practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga and guided imagery.
  • Protect your mouth: If you have braces or other dental appliances, ask your dentist about orthodontic waxes to cover sharp edges.
  • Visit your dentist: Visit your dentist for check-ups regularly. This is especially important if you have a sharp or broken tooth or misfitting dentures
  • Get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet: To help prevent nutritional deficiencies that may cause mouth sores, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Limit alcohol and tobacco use: Limit your consumption of alcohol and do not smoke or use tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco are known to increase your risk of oral cancer.
  • Protect your lips from the sun: Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your lips, and put on a lip balm with SPF 15 at all times.
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Numerous problems can affect your tongue resulting in pain, sores, swelling, changes in taste, unusual colours, and changes in texture. Fortunately, many of these issues are not serious and are caused by minor infections or mouth injuries.

In some instances, though, a discoloured or painful tongue can indicate more serious conditions including vitamin deficiencies, a severe allergic reaction, or oral cancer. For this reason, it is important to seek medical advice if you have any ongoing problems with your tongue.

Some common tongue problems include:

  • Fissured tongue: When deep grooves, cracks or fissures develop in the upper surface of the tongue, this is known as fissured tongue. Fissures tend to become more noticeable with age and affect males more often than females. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians , fissured tongue requires no treatment, unless trapping of food and bacteria leads to inflammation of the fissures.
  • Black hairy tongue: Though troubling in appearance, a black, hairy tongue is typically nothing serious. It is caused by an overgrowth of certain pigment-forming bacteria which give the tongue a dark appearance. Black tongue may be a result of smoking, poor oral hygiene, use of certain antibiotics or the chronic use of antacids and some types of mouthwash.
  • Leukoplakia: This condition causes cells in the mouth to grow excessively. That, in turn, leads to the formation of white patches inside the mouth, including on the tongue. Although not dangerous on its own, leukoplakia can be a precursor to cancer. So it is important for your dentist to determine the cause of white patches on your tongue. Leukoplakia can develop when the tongue has been irritated, and it is often found in people who use tobacco products.
  • Geographic tongue: This condition is named for the map-like pattern of reddish spots that develop on the surface of the tongue. Sometimes, these patches have a white border around them and their location on the tongue may shift over time. Some patients may also have sensitivity to hot or spicy foods. The condition is generally harmless and requires no treatment. You may be prescribed topical medications to ease any discomfort or soreness.
  • Burning tongue syndrome: A burning sensation on the tongue may be a symptom in women who are postmenopausal. This is a relatively common and harmless problem and it often waxes and wanes in severity. While it is an annoying sensation, the condition is typically not progressive, does not represent a form of cancer, and cannot be transmitted to anyone else.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, have your tongue examined by a dental specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment, if needed.

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