When you visit your dentist for a checkup, they aren't just checking the state of your smile. While your oral health is certainly important, peering into your mouth can also reveal truths about your overall health. In fact, the American Dental Association calls the mouth a window, noting that it can serve as a useful opening to spot signs of nutritional deficiencies, systemic diseases, and even genetic disorders. Have you ever wondered what your tongue might tell about your oral and overall health? There's one condition in dentistry that is called scalloped tongue that can leave the edges of your tongue looking ruffled or indented. What should you know about this condition? And what does it tell you about your health?
What is a Scalloped Tongue?
Scalloped tongue goes by many names. Some are vividly descriptive: Pie crust tongue, rippled tongue, and wavy tongue all paint a fairly clear picture of the problem. A scalloped tongue is also commonly referred to as a crenated tongue or crenulated tongue. Additionally, lingua indentata means toothed tongue in Latin, and macroglossia is the formal medical term for an enlarged tongue. These many names all refer to the same condition.
The identifying characteristics of a scalloped tongue are the rippling indentations that give it its name. These scalloped edges are found running down one or both sides of the tongue and are formed when the tissue of the tongue presses against the teeth. They're rarely painful. If they are, it's likely the underlying cause of the indentations is to blame.
Common Scalloped Tongue Causes
Scalloped tongue isn't an isolated event. It's generally the result of another underlying medical condition. As Healthline explains, there are a variety of health issues that can set the stage for tongue scalloping. Common causes of scalloped tongue are listed here:
- Bruxism: Oral parafunctional habits like teeth grinding and jaw clenching can generate enormous pressures and have long-term effects on your teeth and the muscles and tissues of your mouth. Scalloped tongue can be an indicator that you grind or clench your teeth.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders: When TMJ disorders cause the jaw's hinge joint to become stuck or misaligned, patients often use the tongue to support the lower jaw. This can lead to tongue scalloping.
- Hypothyroidism: Low levels of thyroid hormones can lead to a host of symptoms, including swelling of the tongue. This swelling can result in a scalloped tongue.
- Sleep apnea: Individuals with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders may unconsciously push their tongue forward to try and open their airway. Over time, this tongue thrusting can lead to scalloping.
- Genetic conditions or birth defects: Certain conditions like down syndrome, apert syndrome, and congenital hypothyroidism are associated with tongue scalloping.
- Amyloidosis: This disease spurs a buildup of proteins in organs and tissues that causes inflammation. If the tongue is affected, its enlargement may lead to scalloping.
- Anxiety: Stress and anxiety are factors in many oral symptoms, including teeth grinding, jaw clenching, and tongue thrusting. When performed repetitively, these behaviors can leave indentations on the tongue. Additionally, stress can cause bruxism which can also lead to tongue scalloping.
- Dehydration: Dehydration can cause the body's tissues, including those in the tongue, to swell. Being dehydrated could leave you more vulnerable to tongue scalloping.
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Is a Scalloped Tongue Dangerous?
The sight of a scalloped tongue may be unsettling, but there's no need to panic. The condition isn't generally considered hazardous. After all, few people actually require treatment for their tongue. As Colgate reports, the important thing to remember about tongue scalloping is that it can serve as a warning sign for other health conditions, and those conditions may benefit from medical advice and some form of treatment.
A scalloped tongue is normally painless. If you notice that your tongue has these indentations, there's no need to seek emergency care. However, you should make an appointment with your doctor to get the situation checked out. Your doctor will likely examine your tongue, talk about any recent changes in your health, and ask if you've noticed any other symptoms. They may also run some lab tests or request a biopsy to try and zero in on the underlying cause.
Smoothing Out a Scalloped Tongue
Fortunately, a scalloped tongue is not permanent. Identifying the underlying cause of the condition and treating it is the best way to reverse the tongue enlargement and rid yourself of the indentations along the tongue.
People battling bruxism can get relief from their teeth grinding, jaw clenching, and tongue scalloping by wearing a mouth guard. When worn, these custom-fit mouth guards form a barrier between the upper and lower teeth, discouraging clenching and protecting the teeth and the mouth's tender tissues from teeth grinding. Oral appliances like mouth guard for TMJ may also be used to treat TMJ disorders and even mild cases of sleep apnea, although continuous positive airway pressure therapy is the most common treatment for that sleep disorder, according to Mayo Clinic.
Medications can offer a useful approach to treating tongue scalloping. As Healthline explains, the right medication depends on your condition. For patients with thyroid issues, it may be a matter of managing hormones. For those with other concerns, anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, and allergy medications could be beneficial. In addition, home remedies like heat and cold compresses may also provide relief.
If anxiety or stress is the underlying cause of your scalloped tongue, relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation are useful. In some cases, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medication.
The Scoop on Scalloped Tongues
Although a scalloped tongue may look odd, it typically isn't dangerous and is not necessarily something to be concerned with. That doesn't mean that you should just ignore it. After all, it could be a sign of another underlying health problem. If you notice signs that your tongue is looking wavy or ruffled, make a note of any other recent symptoms, and bring the matter to your doctor's attention.
If bruxism is causing your scalloped tongue, check out Pro Teeth Guard's selection of affordable, custom-fit night guards. Our top-quality oral appliances are created in a professional dental lab using professional materials and processes. We're so confident that you'll be pleased with the comfortable fit that our mouth guards offer that we stand behind them with our 110% money-back guarantee.
- ADA Writing Staff. (2006). Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body. American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_61.ashx
- Colgate Writing Staff. (n.d.). Scalloped Tongue: Causes And Treatment Options. Oral Health and Dental Care. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/mouth-sores-and-infections/scalloped-tongue-causes-and-treatment-options
- Holland, K. (2019, March 8). Scalloped Tongue: Causes, Treatment, and Diagnosis. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/scalloped-tongue#treatment
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Sleep Apnea. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20377636