How Tongue Problems May Affect Basic Oral Functions

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Your tongue's ability to articulate during speech and chewing may be compromised if it's not in good shape. Many of the tongue problems that make life particularly challenging for patients can be avoided or controlled with dental hygiene, while others may require medical treatment to resolve them.

Problems With the Tongue

The tongue is a complex organ that can develop a range of different conditions, which can be very inconvenient and cause great difficulty speaking, swallowing and performing other functions, according to The New York Times. Some of these problems are:

  • Glossitis. Also known as a swollen tongue, glossitis may be caused by an allergic reaction to oral care products, medication or food, or even anxiety, notes the Calm Clinic. It may also have a more ominous cause, such as acromegaly, amyloidosis, myxedema or Prader-Willi syndrome.
  • Tongue pain. Discomfort may be caused by blisters, canker sores or injuries, leukoplakia, diabetic neuropathy or mouth ulcers.
  • Coated tongue. A coated tongue may be due to oral hairy leukoplakia, poor hygiene, excessive tea or coffee consumption, or tobacco use, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine.

Any of these tongue problems can lead to difficulty with basic functions.

Tongue-Related Problems

1. Speaking Difficulties

Articulatory phonetics requires a speaker's tongue to change position depending on the sounds used, according to Oxford University Research on Linguistics. The tongue is required to arch to the roof of the mouth for high vowel sounds such as the "U" in "blue," for example, while for low vowel sounds like the "A" in "cat" the tongue is required to lie flat in the mouth. It can be challenging trying to enunciate clearly when your tongue is less agile than usual due to swelling.

Tongue pain can also give rise to speaking difficulties, because when you formulate your words the tongue typically comes into contact with different parts of the inner cheeks and gum tissue. When pain affects the area of the tongue required to produce the sound, your ability to deliver a clear address is reduced.

2. Eating Challenges

People with tongue problems may have difficulty eating. One of the challenges is that of tasting the food, because the surface of the tongue is embedded with sensory cells or taste buds that come into contact with the food particles, explains the National Center for Biotechnology Information. If the taste buds are compromised, eating may be less enjoyable, thus possibly leading to decreased appetite followed by weight loss and inadequate nutrition. Pain and swelling of the tongue can also cause difficulty chewing due to insufficient space in the mouth, which can result in choking if the food is not chewed well enough before swallowing.

3. Respiratory Distress

A heavily swollen tongue can cause a patient respiratory distress by blocking their airway, and in the case of an allergic reaction it could combine with the swelling of the throat typical of anaphylaxis.

4. Halitosis

Bad breath is a common by-product of many of the conditions that accompany tongue problems. Although a swollen tongue won't necessarily give you halitosis, any form of bacterial infection can result in a foul-smelling odor.

Many tongue disorders can be prevented by maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen that includes daily brushing with a toothbrush that incorporates a tongue cleaner, like the Colgate 360° toothbrush. Its unique cheek and tongue cleaner comfortably removes odor-causing bacteria for fresher breath.

Keep your teeth clean with an oral health routine.

Establishing an oral health routine is important for a healthy mouth. Try one of our oral health products to help you establish a schedule.