A lessor known cause of bad oral health affects about 200,000 people each year. That’s the number of people that visit a doctor due to chemosensory problems, or issues with their senses of taste and smell. Typically this happens to the elderly, though some of these disorders start at birth. Loss of smell and taste interferes with oral health in that it reduces the pleasure response of the brain related to food, and thus nutrition, as well as the ability to properly clean the oral cavity. Let’s take a look at the types of chemosensory problems, what can cause them, and how to cure them for the benefit of both oral and bodily health.
Ways Your Smeller and Tasters May Be Malfunctioning
There are four main types of chemosensory problems. Anosmia is the complete loss of the sense of smell, while Hyposmia is a reduction in smelling ability. Ageusia is the loss of taste, and Hypogeusia is a reduced sense of taste in one of the taste bud types: sweet, sour, bitter, salty. These reactions of the nose and tongue can also be distorted or simply misplace typically enjoyable flavors with bad ones, resulting in a lower quality of life, especially the elderly. They can also be hints at impending disease. (Source: Hopkinsmedicine.org.)
You may be wondering how the sense of smell is related to your mouth, but the truth is most people don’t realize that without smell, you can’t taste much of anything. The complex relationship between smell and taste is still a mystery to scientists. Researchers have found correlations, but no definite answers to how they interact.
Causes of Chemosensory Disorders
Many researchers have confirmed causes of distorted smells and tastes. Tobacco use and prolonged coffee-drinking habits are a huge one. In fact, in one study published in the journal Chemosensory Perception found that the toxic chemicals in them actually alters the fungiform papillae of the tongue, or taste buds, and hinders their regeneration. This means the loss is pretty permanent.
Other things that can cause chemosensory problems are certain medications, head injuries, hormone changes, sinus infections, nervous system and heart diseases, and poor nutrition. In some cases, bad oral health can also contribute to the inability to smell or taste foods and enjoy them like before. This in turn, creates more dental problems which is why seeing a dentist when you experience them or when a doctor recommends doing so is a good idea.
Treatments for Chemosensory Disorders
Once the problem has been identified, your doctor will take stock of your information and determine the best plan. Tests can include the severity of loss of senses, comparing your ability to sense different types of smells or tastes, or sometimes a rinse and spit test applied to the tongue. From there, your age, health and medical history will be observed, and treatment will be determined. Often, the removal or change of medication will do the trick, but of course if disease is causing the problem, correcting that condition will be the primary plan.
Whether your doctor recommends it or not, it’s a great idea to see your dentist. Keeping your oral cavity healthy will be even more important than normal since you won’t necessarily be able to tell if something isn’t quite right in your mouth. To some degree, taste and smell help us determine when infection has taken root, as well as how badly plaque has built up. Often the inability to swallow also accompanies chemosensory issues, so food particles stay in the mouth longer and can cause tooth decay. Your dentist can help you keep tabs on your oral health, and help with any complications that chemosensory disorders are having on your mouth.