Tongue. Function. Pathologies

The tongue is an organ located inside the oral cavity, posterior to the dental arches. It consists of muscle fibers and is a powerful organ that can influence the position and function of teeth.

In dentistry, the tongue is a factor that is taken into account in the development of treatment plans and can frequently alter therapeutic management.

The functions of the tongue are:

  • Mastication: in the first stage of mastication, it has the role of directing food towards the dental arches.

  • Swallowing: through the muscle fibers of which it is composed, the tongue pushes the food bowl towards the pharynx.

  • Phonation: involved in the pronunciation of most letters by regulating and shaping the sounds sent by the vocal cords.

  • Taste perception: the base of the tongue registers information about bitter taste, the lateral edges contain information about salty and sour tastes and the tip of the tongue perceives sweet sensations.

The tongue, an indispensable organ for the functions of the dento-maxillary apparatus, can often be the site of various types of pathologies. It reflects both oral and general health.

Abnormalities and pathologies of the tongue

Macroglossia is a malformation present from birth which is characterized by increased tongue size. It exceeds the space delimited by the teeth and the patient has to make an extra effort to keep it in the oral cavity. Also, given the increased volume, the tongue pushes the teeth causing changes in position that will completely destabilize the occlusion or dislocate the prosthetic work.

Lesions – the tongue may show stains, adherent deposits, ulcerations, cracks or peculiar coloring. All of these make the patient anxious and refer them to the dental surgery.

  • Candidiasis of the tongue: is the most common infection of the surface of the tongue, caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. It is manifested by a white plaque and denotes the patient’s depressed immunity. It detaches on scraping and is the distinguishing sign between candidiasis and leukoplakia, the latter being a lesion with malignant potential.

  • Lingual ulcers: mostly occur on the tongue and cause discomfort during swallowing or phonation. They are also caused by trauma (bites), canker sores which can ulcerate as they progress or contact of the mucous membranes with toxic substances. Tongue ulcers may also suggest infectious pathologies such as syphilis or tuberculosis, which is why urgent control is required to eliminate the causes and promote healing.

Cancer of the tongue

This is a pathology that seriously affects the functionality of the oral cavity and digestive system. It is important to seek medical advice if any of these signs are found in the tongue:

  • Swelling

  • Canker sores that persist for a long time and are refractory to treatment

  • White deposits that do not come off after scraping

  • Pain or embarrassment when chewing, phonation or swallowing

Interaction of tongue with dental arches

The teeth, with their internal surfaces, demarcate the tongue’s passageway. The tongue, if it applies too much force on the teeth, can cause changes in occlusion.

In the case of mandibular total dentures, the tongue inserts in the vicinity of the gums can destabilize the prosthetic work, making it difficult to perform normal functions.

The tongue is in constant balance with the dental arches, contributing to the phonation.

As an organ that is indispensable for the performance of a considerable number of bodily functions, particular attention must be paid to any change in color, sensitivity or consistency.

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