You may never have heard of tongue spasms, but this little-known issue can occur at any age as part of a condition known as lingual dystonia. "Dystonia" refers to any involuntary muscle contraction, and "lingual" means having to do with the tongue. Read on to find out how spasms might occur, how they can be treated and how they are prevented from reoccurring.
What Is Dystonia?
Lingual dystonia causes involuntary movements of the tongue and surrounding structures, which can lead to impaired chewing or difficulty forming words. These problems can subsequently lead to weight loss or loss of the ability to speak, according to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF). Some of the more extreme cases of dystonia, such as a patient who can suddenly choke on food, could possibly lead to the development of more severe health problems.
Some of the people who most commonly experience mouth spasms, the DMRF notes, are musicians, who might experience muscle contractions in their lips after playing a wind or brass instrument for an extended period of time.
What Causes Dystonia?
Since tongue spasms are a symptom and not a disease by themselves, it can be difficult to point to a single cause. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes three types of dystonia: idiopathic (sudden spasms from an unknown cause), genetic (inherited from at least one parent) and acquired (contracted later in life from an illness or injury). Scientists think that all types originate in an area of the brain, known as the basal ganglia, that controls muscle contractions, notes the Brain Foundation.
Treating Tongue Spasms
But how does all of this help people with tongue spasms? Since dystonia can be a life-changing condition, many researchers have worked to develop various treatments. The most conservative method is speech and swallowing therapy. Repetitive exercise allows the muscles of the tongue to get stronger and learn how to relax when a patient is eating or talking, according to the National Health Service (NHS).
A more aggressive form of treatment is the injection of botulinum toxin. This compound can temporarily paralyze muscles in the face to stop spasms, but it needs to be injected every two to three months when the effects wear off, according to the NHS. Despite their drawbacks, botulinum injections are the most effective treatment for dystonia available today, writes NINDS.
Treating dystonia requires a team of medical experts beyond your dentist. The approach your doctor will take depends on your symptoms, since individual patients respond differently to different treatments. Tongue spasms can be frustrating to deal with, but with proper diagnosis and therapy, a dystonia patient can look forward to a normal and happy life.