If your tongue is swollen, has an irregular shape, notches, indentations, and bumps on it, it might be scalloped. This condition rarely causes any pain or indicates any underlying medical condition. But in some cases, its potential causes can lead to complications that can affect your overall oral health if not treated at the right time.
Mostly, a scalloped tongue occurs due to inflammation or swelling on the tongue. But several other causes might also lead to its formation.
What is a scalloped tongue?
A scalloped tongue, also known as a wavy or rippled tongue, is a condition characterized by indentations or scalloping along the edges of the tongue. These indentations create a wavy appearance, with the tongue appearing to have small “scallops” or indentations along its sides.
Scalloping of the tongue is often a sign of underlying issues or conditions.
Tongue enlargement: Enlargement of the tongue due to conditions like hypothyroidism, acromegaly (excessive growth hormone), or amyloidosis (abnormal protein deposits).
Tongue thrusting or clenching: Habitual tongue thrusting against the teeth or clenching of the tongue during sleep can result in pressure against the teeth, leading to scalloping.
Teeth misalignment: Abnormalities in tooth positioning or alignment can cause the tongue to exert pressure against the teeth, resulting in scalloping.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders: Dysfunction of the TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull, can lead to tongue thrusting or clenching and subsequent scalloping.
Tongue size and posture: Some individuals naturally have larger tongues or may hold their tongues in a certain position that causes indentations along the sides.
Common Causes of A Scalloped Tongue
High levels of anxiety and stress can impact our bodies in numerous ways. It can also give rise to certain habits like bruxism, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, and pressing your tongue against your teeth. As a result, this continuous pressure on the tongue will lead to the formation of indentations and notches.
Dehydration is another significant reason that leads to the formation of a scalloped tongue. Dehydration causes swelling in our body, including our tongue.
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder:
When an individual has a temporomandibular joint disorder, the joint that connects the skull and the jaw gets stuck and misaligns. It results in a swollen and marked tongue. Therefore, individuals suffering from this dysfunction (TMD) usually develop indents in their tongues.
- Sleep Disorders:
Some sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, bruxism, and teeth clenching and grinding, can also exert pressure on the tongue. As a result, they become a reason for a scalloped tongue. Sleep apnea might exasperate you to put pressure on your tongue against your teeth to open up the airways while you are asleep. This forms teeth marks on your tongue, which makes it swollen and wavy from the sides and gives it a scalloped appearance.
A scalloped tongue can also occur when your body is not getting enough nutrition, including certain minerals and vitamins. Moreover, certain habits such as tobacco consumption and smoking also put individuals at an increased risk of developing this condition. Smoking not only increases inflammation in your body but also leads to dehydration.
Hypothyroidism is another possible factor that leads to the formation of a scalloped tongue. Due to low levels of thyroid hormone and a lot of toxins, our tongue can become swollen. The body that has low levels of thyroid hormones can also face other health problems, such as weight gain, hair loss, fertility issues, and the occurrence of teeth marks on the tongue.
Genetics can also contribute to the formation of ridges on the side of the tongue. Certain genetic conditions that are quite common among the individuals who have a scalloped tongue are a result of genetic troubles; two of such include Apert syndrome and Down syndrome.
Symptoms of a scalloped tongue
The primary symptom of a scalloped tongue is the presence of indentations or ridges along the sides of the tongue. These indentations give the tongue a wavy or rippled appearance. Other associated symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause of the scalloping and can include:
Tongue pain or discomfort: Some individuals with a scalloped tongue may experience pain, tenderness, or aching sensations in the tongue.
Difficulty swallowing: In cases where the scalloping is severe or caused by tongue enlargement, difficulty swallowing or a sensation of food getting stuck in the throat may occur.
Speech changes: Tongue scalloping can sometimes affect speech, causing changes in articulation or clarity of speech.
Teeth grinding or clenching: Tongue scalloping may be associated with habits like teeth grinding or clenching, which can lead to additional symptoms such as jaw pain or headaches.
Treatments For a Scalloped Tongue:
Treatments for a scalloped tongue typically depend on the root cause of the problem. If a scalloped tongue occurs due to genetic conditions, doctors might recommend surgical intervention. But if a scalloped tongue has occurred due to certain health conditions, like hypothyroidism, prescription medication might help. Some other common treatments for a tongue that has ridges on its side usually include:
- Therapeutic Botox:
Therapeutic Botox can effectively treat a scalloped tongue that is caused by temporomandibular joint disorders and jaw clenching.
- Mouth Guards:
A scalloped tongue is not permanent, and by identifying the root cause of this problem, this condition can be reversed. Individuals who are facing problems like bruxism can certainly get relief from these issues by wearing a mouth guard.
The custom-fit mouth guards create a barrier between the upper and lower teeth. They also discourage clenching, and protect the teeth and the mouth’s tender tissues from the effects of teeth grinding.
- Drink Plenty of Water:
Dehydration is a widely known reason for the formation of a swollen tongue. Inadequate fluids in our body can result in a salivary gland infection that gives rise to a swelling or scalloping tongue. Therefore, replenishing fluids can effectively help eliminate these symptoms. Drinking plenty of water and maintaining a good oral care routine will surely help you to prevent tongue swelling from dehydration.
When to see a doctor for a scalloped tongue
While a scalloped tongue is often a harmless condition, there are instances where it’s advisable to see a doctor for further evaluation and appropriate management. Here are some situations in which you should consider seeking medical attention:
New or sudden onset: If you notice the appearance of a scalloped tongue and it’s a new development or occurs suddenly without any apparent cause, it’s recommended to see a doctor for assessment.
Persistent or worsening symptoms: If the scalloping of your tongue persists over time or worsens, and you experience accompanying symptoms such as pain, discomfort, difficulty swallowing, or changes in speech, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.
Concerns about an underlying condition: If you have reason to suspect that the scalloped tongue may be related to an underlying health condition, such as thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, or inflammatory conditions, it’s advisable to seek medical advice for appropriate evaluation and management.
Other concerning signs or symptoms: If you experience additional concerning signs or symptoms alongside the scalloped tongue, such as unexplained weight loss, persistent fatigue, bleeding, or other oral abnormalities, it’s important to see a doctor for further investigation.
A healthcare professional will be able to examine your tongue, review your medical history, and perform any necessary tests or investigations to determine the cause of the scalloping and provide appropriate guidance or treatment.
Complications of a scalloped tongue
A scalloped tongue itself is typically not a serious condition and does not typically lead to complications. However, the underlying causes or conditions associated with a scalloped tongue may have their own complications. It’s important to identify and address the underlying cause to prevent potential complications.
Some potential complications related to the underlying conditions that may cause a scalloped tongue include:
Sleep apnea: If a scalloped tongue is due to an obstructed airway during sleep, it can contribute to or worsen symptoms of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to various health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk of accidents due to daytime sleepiness.
Nutritional deficiencies: A scalloped tongue caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin deficiencies, can lead to a range of health issues related to those deficiencies. For example, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause anemia, nerve damage, and cognitive problems.
Underlying health conditions: Sometimes, a scalloped tongue associated with underlying health conditions such as hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, or connective tissue disorders. These conditions may have their own potential complications if left untreated or unmanaged.
Home Remedies For Scalloped Tongue
A scalloped tongue usually occurs due to numerous factors such as bruxism, sleep apnea, and dehydration. However, these approaches mainly depend on the root cause of the problem and can vary from person to person. If you are suffering from any symptoms of a scalloped tongue, consult a healthcare provider immediately. Because if this problem persists for longer periods, it can result in serious complications.