Indentations or scalloped margins along the lateral borders of the tongue describe a condition known as a scalloped tongue, which is also known as a wavy or rippled tongue. While occasional scalloping is to be expected, recurrent scalloping may point to more serious health difficulties.
In order to have a thorough understanding of the scalloped tongue and its effects on general health, we shall discuss its etiology, manifestations, and management in the following sections.
Causes of Scalloped Tongue
- Teeth Grinding (Bruxism): The involuntary grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth, known as bruxism, is a leading cause of the scalloped tongue. The indentation pattern seen in the scalloped tongue may be the result of continual pressure and friction between the teeth and the tongue’s lateral borders.
- Tongue Enlargement: Tongue scalloping may also be caused by macroglossia, a condition in which the tongue is abnormally big. Several medical diseases, including as hypothyroidism, amyloidosis, and Down syndrome, have been linked to the development of macroglossia.
- Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders: Sleep-related respiratory problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), have been associated with the scalloped tongue. Caused by the tongue being forced against the roof of the mouth or the teeth during bouts of obstructive sleep apnea, scalloping may develop over time.
- Tongue Thrusting: Chronic pressure on the tongue’s margins, particularly while swallowing or speaking, may give the tongue a scalloped look due to a habit called “tongue thrusting,” in which the tongue is forced firmly against the teeth.
- Tongue Ties: When the lingual frenulum, the band of tissue that normally separates the tongue from the floor of the mouth, is abnormally short, a condition known as ankyloglossia occurs. Limiting tongue mobility in this way might cause the tongue to scallop.
- Nutritional Deficiencies: Tongue scalloping may be caused by a lack of certain nutrients, including vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron.
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders: Scalloped tongue is a symptom of TMJ problem, which may lead to jaw misalignment and inappropriate tongue posture during sleep and everyday activities.
Symptoms of Scalloped Tongue
Ridges or indentations along the lateral edges of the tongue are the predominant sign of a scalloped tongue. The size and shape of these depressions might change. Although a scalloped tongue may not be painful in and of itself, it may be a sign of a more serious problem, and some people may suffer discomfort or other symptoms as a result of whatever that problem is. Examples of such symptoms might be:
- Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) during sleep or waking hours.
- Sleep disturbances or excessive daytime sleepiness due to sleep-related breathing disorders.
- Jaw pain or discomfort associated with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
- Speech difficulties or changes in the way the tongue moves while speaking.
- Swallowing difficulties or the sensation of a swollen or enlarged tongue.
- Snoring, gasping for breath, or choking episodes during sleep (associated with sleep apnea).
Treatment Options for Scalloped Tongue
Finding the root of the problem is essential to treating scalloped tongues effectively. Possible therapeutic approaches include the following:
- Dental Splints or Mouthguards: Dental splints or mouthguards may help protect the teeth from grinding, relieving pressure on the tongue’s lateral borders in situations when bruxism is the underlying cause of the problem.
- Sleep Apnea Treatments: If sleep apnea or another breathing condition during sleep is to blame for your scalloped tongue, treatment options include CPAP treatments, dental appliances, or even just changing your sleeping habits.
- Tongue Tie Release: Surgical release of the lingual frenulum may be required to restore normal tongue mobility in situations where ankyloglossia is responsible for the scalloping of the tongue.
- Nutritional Supplements: Tongue scalloping may be caused by a lack of nutrients like vitamin B12. Vitamin supplements or dietary adjustments recommended by a doctor may aid in these situations.
- Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT): Opinions vary on whether or not osteopathic manipulative therapy, a hands-on method employed by osteopathic doctors, may help with structural difficulties or TMJ disorders that produce tongue scalloping.
- Speech Therapy: People with a scalloped tongue may benefit from speech therapy to help them with tongue mobility and articulation.
- Management of Underlying Health Conditions: Macroglossia, which causes the tongue to become larger than normal, may often be managed by addressing the underlying medical condition.
A scalloped tongue is not usually a serious medical emergency, but it might be a sign of other problems that need to be addressed. It is important to see a doctor for an assessment and diagnosis if you have seen chronic scalloping of the tongue or are experiencing associated symptoms.
If the reason can be determined and treated, the tongue’s appearance and the patient’s health might both improve.