During a dental check-up, dentists perform several examinations in and around the mouth to identify any possible oral health problems. One of the critical examinations is checking under the tongue. Although this may seem unusual to some, there are many good reasons why dentists look under the tongue.
In order to understand why dentists look under the tongue at an appointment, it is crucial to understand the parts of the tongue. The tongue has two primary parts, the anterior and posterior segments (or the front and back). The anterior segment is the part of the tongue visible when we open our mouth, and it’s the one that helps us taste and talk. The posterior part (back of the tongue), on the other hand, is located behind the oral cavity, and it’s not visible without the aid of dental tools. The area beneath the tongue is known as the sublingual region. It contains several significant features that help dentists detect oral health problems. So which health problems could these be?
One of the most important reasons a dentist would look under the tongue is to check for signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer affects various areas of the mouth, including the tongue, lips, cheek, and throat. Since it’s estimated that oral cancer affects over 50,000 Americans each year, early detection is key to beating it. When searching for evidence of oral cancer, the dentist will look for any red or white bumps, raised patches, ulcers, or abnormal growths under the tongue. They may also check the neck and lymph nodes for any swelling or abnormalities.
Another common reason why dentists check under the tongue is to check for a benign condition called a fissured tongue. A fissured tongue occurs in about 5% of the population. It is characterized by small furrows or grooves on the dorsum (or top) of the tongue. Although it’s typically harmless, it can be a sign of other underlying conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome or Down syndrome. It also can cause pain if food debris accumulates in it.
Geographic tongue, a condition where the tongue has irregular patches of smooth red skin, is another condition that a dentist may check for at a routine checkup. These smooth areas come from the loss of the tiny hairlike projections on the tongue’s surface. The pattern looks similar to a map or geographic terrain, hence the condition’s name. Geographic tongue is an inflammatory typically harmless condition that can be an indicator of other underlying conditions such as a vitamin B deficiency or simply from irritation from hot or spicy foods or alcohol.
The tongue can function as an indicator of our general health, including nutritional deficiencies. Dentists are trained to look for signs of nutrient deficiencies, which can show up as changes in the tongue’s appearance. For example, a swollen and beefy red or pale tongue, or fluctuations in general mouth health, could be a sign of a nutrient deficiency such as iron, vitamin B12, or folate.
Dentists can assess oral hygiene levels by looking under the tongue. The underside of the tongue is a common area that people often miss during their regular cleaning practice. Without proper hygiene, bacteria accumulate in the mouth, leading to issues like bad breath. A healthy mouth has tissue under the tongue that is pink and firm, and the breath will smell pleasant or neutral. Because of this, the dentist can assess oral hygiene levels by looking at the plaque levels, the gums, and the general appearance of the tongue.
A tongue-tie is a medical condition where the band of tissue between the underside of the tongue and the floor of the mouth is too short or tight. This is why a dentist might tell you to open wide and say “ahh”. The best test for a tongue tie is to get the patient to try and touch their tongue behind their top teeth. If they can only lift halfway or less, then there is a significant tongue restriction. This condition can cause problems such as speech impediments, difficulty swallowing, or a limited range of motion of the tongue. Patients with a tongue tie may suffer from neck and shoulder tension, headaches or migraines, sleep difficulties, slow eating or swallowing pills, or speech issues. By assessing for a tongue tie, a dentist can identify whether action needs to be taken to remove it (a tongue tie release).
As you can see, there are several reasons why a dentist may look under the tongue during an examination. From assessing oral hygiene to looking for early signs of oral cancer, the dentist can use this information to identify any potential oral health issues and create a treatment plan that works best for the patient. If you think that you may have any of these issues or simply feel that you need a regular dental checkup, you should contact our team … in the … area. Regular dental visits are essential to the health of not just the mouth, but the body as well.