What’s It Mean When Your Tongue is Black?

closeup of tongueWe all know that dentists are responsible for overseeing the health of our teeth. But the truth is, your dentist in Sacramento is actually responsible for much more than teeth alone. Your dental team is dedicated to protecting your overall health, and one area that’s of particular interest to your dentist is your tongue. Believe it or not, your tongue can say a lot about your overall health and can show early warning of signs of some serious health conditions. 

What We Look For 

At your bi-annual dental checkups, your dentist and hygienist will take a close look at your tongue. But what exactly are they looking for? First, your dental team will look for any changes in your tongue’s texture since your last appointment, paying particular attention to any bumps or lumps. Next, your dentist in Sacramento will look for any tongue discoloration. A healthy tongue will be pink and covered in teeny tiny bumps called papillae. An unhealthy tongue or one that may be showing signs of a bigger problem may have any of the following:  

1) Black and Hairy – Looking into the mirror and seeing a black, hairy tongue can certainly cause someone to panic. But, however scary and gross this may seem, chances are that a black, hairy tongue is nothing to fear and is usually temporary. It may also help to know that the hairy appearance isn’t actually hair. It’s often a buildup of dead skin cells on the papillae, which causes the normally tiny bumps to take on a long, stringy appearance. 

  • Causes: Poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, dry mouth, changes in the number of bacteria or yeast in the mouth. 
  • Symptoms: Bad breath, change in taste or a metallic taste, hairy or furry appearance, black, yellow, brown, or green coloration. 

2) A Sore, Bumpy Tongue – Every tongue naturally has a bumpy texture, and not every bump is worrisome. However, when a new bump appears and lasts for more than two weeks, or is accompanied by pain or soreness, it may be time to see your dentist in Sacramento. A lump or bump that doesn’t go away may be an early warning sign of oral cancer, and it’s best to get it checked sooner rather than later.

  • Causes: While anyone can develop oral cancer, there are some things that increase the risk including tobacco use, alcohol, too much sun on the lips without protection, or HPV. 
  • Symptoms: Lumps, bumps, or painful sores that don’t go away, chronic bad breath, changes in voice, difficulty chewing or swallowing, numbness of the tongue. 

3) Ridges – Changes in tongue texture may initially be concerning, but ridges or a scalloped appearance on the edges of the tongue are typically harmless. 

  • Causes: Teeth grinding, pushing the tongue against teeth either during periods of stress or even during sleep, sleep apnea, smoking, nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B-12, riboflavin, niacin, or iron. 
  • Symptoms: Ridges, ripples, indents, or scalloped edges on the sides of the tongue.  

4) White Spots – When your tongue appears to be coated in white spots, you may be experiencing oral thrush or leukoplakia. Oral thrush is an infection caused by Candida yeast while leukoplakia is a result of tobacco use or alcohol use. Sometimes, leukoplakia can develop into oral cancer. 

  • Causes: Poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, alcohol use, dehydration, dry mouth, mouth breathing. 
  • Symptoms: White patches or spots or a white coating on the tongue. The white spots or coating can show up either on the entire tongue or just in select places.  

We always recommend that you keep a close eye on your tongue’s health in between your visits, too. If you notice any changes in texture or color or develop sores, contact your dentist in Sacramento as soon as you can. 

The Great American Smokeout & Your Oral Health

cigEvery November, the American Cancer Society sponsors the Great American Smokeout to encourage smokers to quit. As we all know, smoking can lead to serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Your dentist in Sacramento also wants you to know that smoking can have a negative effect on your oral health, too. Let’s take a look at some of the ways smoking can cause problems in your mouth. 

Oral Cancer

One of the most serious ways smoking can affect your oral health is by increasing your risk of developing oral cancer. While oral cancer doesn’t only occur in smokers, smoking does greatly increase the chances. In fact, smokers are six times more likely to get oral cancer than non-smokers. Like any cancer, oral cancer can be deadly if not caught and treated quickly and appropriately. This is one reason why seeing your Sacramento dentist at least twice a year is so important. Your dental team will check for signs of oral cancer at every appointment so if something suspicious does show up, you’d catch it early and when treatment is often more successful. 

Gum Disease

Another serious oral health problem that oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with smoking is gum disease. Gum disease can affect anyone but smokers are 50% more likely to get it than non-smokers. It’s a serious oral health problem that can lead to tooth loss and even other health are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Bad Breath & Discolored Teeth

Smokers often have a clear giveaway that they smoke — their breath. Smokers’ breath isn’t something that goes away easily and it can linger around for quite a while. Bad breath may seem like no big deal but it can affect relationships and health. What’s more, the ingredients in cigarettes (such as tar and nicotine) can easily stick to any plaque that may be on your teeth, gums, or tongue. When too much of these sticky substances are introduced to the mouth, they can actually change the color of your teeth into a dull, dingy yellow. These stains are also tough to remove and sometimes even professional tooth whitening isn’t enough to get rid of them. 

Dry Mouth

Smokers may experience the discomfort of dry mouth more often than non-smokers. While dry mouth may seem like simply an annoyance, the truth is, it’s actually pretty bad for oral health. In order to stay healthy, your mouth needs to produce enough saliva to rinse away bacteria and neutralize acids that would otherwise lead to decay and cavities. But when the mouth is dry there isn’t enough saliva to do its job correctly, leaving your teeth exposed to all of the dangerous bacteria and plaque acid.  

As you can see, the risks of smoking go well beyond the commonly known risks and can certainly take its toll on oral health. But there’s hope. Your dentist in Sacramento wants to encourage all smokers to pick a quit date and work towards a smoke-free life. We understand quitting smoking can be very difficult, and it may take a few tries to finally kick it. Don’t give up. Quitting smoking now can save your smile and your life. 

Recognizing the Signs of Oral Cancer

oral cancer awarenessOral cancer is a scary disease that takes the lives of over 8,500 Americans every year. It’s a widespread problem that can be treated, often very successfully, if caught early. The problem is, many people don’t know the signs of oral cancer and may never realize there’s a problem until it’s too late. So in honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, our dental office in Sacramento is here to help spread awareness of not only the common signs of oral cancer, but also several risk factors.

Oral Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be crucial in catching and diagnosing the disease early when treatment is most successful. Some of the more common signs of oral cancer include:

  • A chronic sore that doesn’t go away
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • A lump on the cheek or tongue
  • Change in voice

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your dentist in Sacramento as soon as possible.

Risk Factors

It’s important to note that anyone can get oral cancer. However, there are some things that can put us at more risk of the disease including:

Gender: Men are two times more likely to develop oral cancer than women.

Age: People over 50 are the most affected by oral cancer.

Tobacco Use: Nearly 80% of those diagnosed with oral cancer are smokers or use smokeless tobacco. Smoking often leads to throat or mouth cancer, and smokeless tobacco usually results in gum, cheek, or lip cancer.

Alcohol: Approximately 70% of all those diagnosed with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.

Limiting your alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco products are great ways to reduce your risk of getting oral cancer. But perhaps one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from the dangers of oral cancer is to see your dentist every six months. These visits can help catch any problems early while the chance for successful treatment is greatest.

Every year, over 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer. Of those, 40% won’t survive more than five years. Early detection greatly increases the chance of successful treatment and survival. Schedule a visit with your dentist in Sacramento today.

5 Important Facts About Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer AwarenessApril is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and all month long is dedicated to educating the public on the seriousness of the disease. At our dental office in Sacramento, we’d like to help our community by discussing some current oral cancer statistics, sharing the most common symptoms, and talking about some factors that can put you at increased risk.

Oral Cancer Cases Continue to Grow in America

According to the American Cancer Society, just over 51,500 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year alone. That’s an increase of over 1,750 from 2017.

Death Rates Have Remained the Same Over 10 Years

Even though the survival rate for oral cancer is 65%, it still takes the lives of thousands of Americans every year. In 2018, an estimated 10,000 will die. Advancements in treatment options helped reduced the mortality rates in the past, however they have remained steady over the past 10 years.

Catching Oral Cancer Early Can Save Your Life

One of the contributing factors to the 65% oral cancer survival rate is due to early diagnosis and treatment intervention. The best way you can help protect yourself is by recognizing the signs of oral cancer and seeing your dentist in Sacramento as soon as possible if notice any of the common symptoms including:

  • A sore in the mouth that doesn’t go away and bleeds easily
  • A chronic white or red area
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, or moving the tongue
  • A lump on the cheek, tongue, or throat
  • Coughing up blood
  • Ear pain

Tobacco Use Increases the Risk of Oral Cancer

It’s a well known fact that smoking causes lung cancer, but it can also cause other types of cancer including oral cancer. In fact, 80% of those who have oral cancer smoke or use other forms of tobacco. Quitting can help reduce your risk.

So Does Drinking Alcohol Excessively

Approximately 70% of all those diagnosed with oral cancer consume alcohol heavily. And if someone both drinks excessively and smokes, their risk for oral cancer may be as high as 100%.

Prevention

Avoiding known risk factors such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol can certainly help lower your chances of developing oral cancer. However, there are other factors that we can’t control. For example, men are two times more likely to develop oral cancer than women and those over the age of 55 are most commonly affected by the disease. While we can’t do much to change those risks, we can do our best to protect ourselves by practicing good oral hygiene and maintaining dental checkups every six months. These appointments can help in catching oral cancer early when chances of successful treatment and survival are highest.

We welcome all of our neighbors to call our Sacramento dental office to schedule an appointment with us. We’re here to keep your smile, and your whole body, healthy.