Ohio University

NIH-funded study examines how nerve damage affects eating

NIH-funded study examines how nerve damage affects eating

(ATHENS, Ohio — Dec. 10, 2014) A $445,500 grant from the National Institutes of Health will fund an Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine study to more closely examine the effects of nerve damage that sometimes occurs during routine dental procedures. The lingual nerve, which runs in the floor of the mouth to enter the tongue, can be crushed or severed during dental work, particularly when molars are removed, causing intense pain, burning or numbness.

“Lingual nerve injuries are surprisingly common. We know the lingual nerve senses pain, touch and temperature, and fibers also travel with it that convey the sense of taste. We don’t know exactly how damage to this nerve affects the function of the tongue and its coordination with the jaw, although patients have reported that nerve damage makes it harder for them to eat,” said Susan Williams, Ph.D., professor of anatomy at the Heritage College and the project’s lead researcher.

The study will use high-resolution 3-D imaging technology of tongue and jaw movements to better understand the influence of lingual nerve injuries on chewing and swallowing. Lingual nerve injuries can be temporary if the nerve is compressed. However, if the nerve is severed during a dental procedure, the damage is often permanent, affecting quality of life. The hope is that this research will help in the development of improved strategies to rehabilitate those with nerve damage.

The three-year study is funded through the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research.

“Only through research can we gain new insights into health issues that make it difficult for people to live a pain-free life,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O. “We continually seek ways to implement new technology and long-established research methods to find answers to today’s health concerns.”

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.