Sometimes patients ask – Do I See a Doctor or Dentist for Tongue Issues? The answer could be both depending on the issue and the situation.
Increasingly dentists and physicians work together in treating conditions related to airflow including obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance symptoms. In addition, as experts in oral health dentists are often the first to notice issues with the tongue, mouth and surrounding areas.
Please note this article – Do I see a Doctor or Dentist for tongue issues is purely for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional dental and medical care. We hope increased awareness helps all our patients make the best decisions about their family’s health and well-being.
Do I See a Doctor or Dentist for Tongue Issues?
Your Tongue is a Barometer to Your Oral and Overall Health
Has your physician or dentist ever asked you to open your mouth and say “ah?” This is because the tongue offers insight into overall oral and system-wide health. Changes in the tongue sometimes signal issues that require attention.
First, it helps to understand a little about the tongue. Your tongue is composed of a group of small muscles and is attached to the floor of the mouth. Small bumps called papillae cover the surface. Most of your taste buds are within the papillae.
We rely on our tongues to taste, talk, and eat. A healthy tongue is pink and covered with small papillae. Minor injuries from eating hot food like pizza or biting your tongue should heal within a couple of weeks. If you notice pain, discomfort, or any changes in appearance or function talk to your dentist or physician.
Signs and symptoms of tongue issues include:
- Swelling or increased size.
- Change in color.
- Painful bumps or growths.
- Altered taste sensations.
- Trouble moving the tongue.
If you notice a change in color pay attention. Different colors and coatings indicate different issues. For example, a while coating may indicate an oral yeast infection. Bringing these issues to your dentist or doctor’s attention can point them to a variety of potential conditions and the earlier they are treated the better.
Furthermore, your dentist has seen hundreds of tongues ranging from super healthy to unhealthy. Because of this, dental professionals are often uniquely suited to recognize problems that manifest in the tongue earlier.
On Rare Occasion Your Tongue May Warn You of Allergic Reactions
If you notice any sudden changes, call your doctor. Sometimes the tongue may hint to a slow-building issue like poor oral hygiene.
But other times sudden changes may indicate a medical emergency. For example, a quickly swelling tongue may be a warning of an allergic reaction that requires immediate emergency care. If so, see a doctor immediately even if it means visiting the emergency room. Be sure and tell the medical team about any medication you took or the foods you recently ate.
Fortunately, most tongue concerns are not as urgent.
Recognizing Signs of Sleep Disorders Due to Structural Issues
Many dentists include an examination of breathing function and airways within their oral health examinations. As mouth experts, they are well-versed in the anatomy of the head and neck. This awareness sometimes results in them being the first to notice any abnormalities.
For example, a dentist may notice if a child’s tongue is too large for their mouth since they are more used to examining mouths than primary care doctors. Depending on the severity, they may refer the child to a skilled pediatrician.
It isn’t just children that benefit from a mouth examination by a skilled dentist. People of all ages who are experiencing sleep and breathing disorders may benefit from their dentist taking a look at their tongue.
Upper airway resistance syndrome is a condition that is in some ways similar to obstructive sleep apnea. The soft tissues of the throat relax causing a reduction in the airway resulting in pauses or interruptions in breathing. Patients with this condition have to work harder to breathe than those without. Although some of the symptoms overlap with obstructive sleep apnea, this condition is different.
Depending on the condition, dentists may also be involved in the treatment by fitting treatment appliances or teaching tongue exercises. Yes, today’s dentist cares for more than just your teeth and gums. More and more they coordinate with your primary care physician and specialists.
Lifesaving Cancer Screening
Your dental exam is the perfect time for an oral cancer screening. Your dentist will carefully examine your tongue, neck, cheeks, and throat for signs and symptoms of oral or pharyngeal cancer. As with any type of cancer, early detection may result in early treatment which has the best chance of success.
Your dentist may also discuss any risk factors like tobacco use or genetics with you so it is important that you share your full medical history just like you do with your primary care physician.
Oral Hygiene Includes the Tongue
Consistent oral hygiene habits are the cornerstone of good dental and oral health. We recommend that our patients brush their teeth and tongue twice a day. Yes, the tongue! After all, it can be home to bacteria which can harm your teeth, gums and soft tissue. Use a soft-bristled brush that you replace every three months.
In addition, floss daily to ensure healthy gums. You may also prefer to rinse with a mouthwash to destroy bacteria in your mouth.
Sometimes the tongue reveals inconsistent oral hygiene. In that case, your dentist or hygienist may review healthy hygiene techniques and habits.
It All Starts With an Examination
So in response to that question – Do I See a Doctor or Dentist for Tongue Issues? The answer may be both! Your dentist may refer you to a physician depending on your situation
If you have any questions or non-emergency concerns about your tongue, ask your dentist to take a look. Likely, your dentist will want to schedule a thorough dental examination. Charlotte residents trust their smiles to Southview Dentistry. If you are looking for a new dental provider, give us a call today!