The tongue is one of the unique parts of the human body. It's a jack of all trades as it helps the mouth-cleaning process, perceives five different taste categories, and works with the lips and teeth to spit out more than 90 words a minute. On the downside, it harbors bad breath-causing bacteria; however, the tongue's functions are essential to daily life.
According to the Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Research (JOMR), two nerves provide sensation to the tongue, chin and lower lip. One of those nerves is the lingual nerve. If that nerve is injured, how would it affect the tongue? Here's all you need to know about this important nerve, what an injury might look like, and the treatment options available to get it back to working order.
What Is the Lingual Nerve?
The lingual nerve (LN) runs from the oblique line until it crosses the submandibular gland duct, notes the JOMR. It's approximately 4.4 mm horizontal from the third molar socket (more commonly known as the wisdom teeth). Being one of the mandibular nerve branches, the LN controls the nerve endings for two-thirds of the anterior portion of the tongue.
LN Injury Symptoms
The LN stands a decent chance of suffering injury mainly due to some type of surgical procedure involving the face or mouth, according to the Cochrane Oral Health Group. One of the most common types of oral procedures that can cause this type of nerve damage is wisdom teeth removal on the lower jaw. A majority of these injuries are temporary in nature and after eight weeks, approximately 90 percent of them heal on their own. If the injury lasts longer than six months, the damage, unfortunately, is probably permanent.
Any type of changed sensation in the tongue, chin or lower lip is a symptom of a potential nerve injury. Another symptom to watch for is an altered ability to taste in the injured portion of the tongue. A lingual nerve injury can lead to drastic changes to a person's daily life, including socialization issues and emotional distress. Speaking and eating may become difficult, and an LN injury is painful.
If you think you've suffered an LN injury, consult your dentist or physician. In the case of nerve damage, Cochrane lists treatment options, such as:
- Prescription drugs, like painkillers and antidepressants
- Laser treatments to restore some sensation
- One of many surgical procedures such as external or internal neurolysis
- Relaxation therapy and hypnosis
A healthy tongue is just one part of a properly functioning oral cavity. Don't forget the basics when it comes to complete mouth health. Brush at least twice a day and combine that with regular flossing. Try using the Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles tootbrush, as it has a wraparound cheek and tongue cleaner that helps remove odor-causing bacteria. Visit your dentist regularly. He or she is there to offer guidance, answer any questions and provide proactive services, such as teeth cleaning and taking X-rays.