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Recognizing the Warning Signs of 5 Dental Health Issues

The Importance of Oral Health

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), an estimated 100 million Americans don’t go to the dentist on a yearly basis. This is concerning. Regular oral care, like brushing and flossing frequently, and going to the dentist at least two times per year, can prevent most severe dental conditions.

Lingering tooth pain or gum swelling can contribute to larger issues if they’re left untreated. Beyond losing your teeth, poor dental health is associated with an increased risk for conditions such as heart disease. Remember that you don’t need to have symptoms to go to your dentist. You can keep your mouth as healthy and pain-free as possible if you go to your dentist before symptoms start.

The following are five warning signs of an oral health issue:

1. A Spot or Sore That Doesn’t Heal

Ulcers, sores, or tender areas in your mouth can indicate a number of health conditions. Some of these conditions can affect more than just your teeth and gums.

For example, mouth wounds that don’t heal can sometimes indicate diabetes. People with diabetes have a more difficult time healing than those who don’t have diabetes.

If you have a wound in your mouth that doesn’t become smaller or less painful in a week or two, make an appointment to see your dentist and your primary care doctor. You may need to have your blood sugar levels checked to ensure they aren’t too high.

Spots or sores in the mouth can appear as white areas called leukoplakia or as red lesion called erythroplakia. In more serious cases, these lesions may be linked to oral cancers.

Additional symptoms include:

  • ear pain
  • hoarseness
  • jaw swelling
  • numbness in the tongue or throat area
  • trouble moving the jaw or tongue
  • trouble swallowing

You should see your dentist if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.

2. Bleeding or Swollen Gums

Seeing blood in the sink or on your toothbrush after you brush your teeth can be a sign of a health issue. Healthy gum tissue shouldn’t bleed unless you’re brushing too aggressively.

Your gums, or gingiva, hold your teeth in place. They’re responsible for creating a barrier between your tooth roots, nerves, and blood vessels, and the foods and drinks you consume. You can lose a tooth or teeth if you don’t have healthy gum tissue.

Bleeding or swollen gums can indicate periodontal or gum disease. This suggests you have a significant amount of bacteria in your mouth that are causing inflammation in your gums. According to the ADA, half of all adults older than age 30 have gum disease. See your dentist, who can examine your gum tissue and teeth.

3. Bad Breath

Sometimes bad breath is the result of the garlic-filled dinner you just ate or a sign that you need to drink more water. Chronic bad breath, however, can be a symptom of:

  • dental cavities
  • gum disease
  • dry mouth
  • tobacco products
  • poor oral hygiene
  • infections in the mouth, nose, and throat

Your dentist can provide tips to keep bad breath at bay even if you don’t have signs of dental decay.

4. Sensitivity to Hot and Cold

You can expect increased sensitivity following dental procedures like cavity fillings or crown placements. Sudden, unexplained changes to sensitivity mean you should call your dentist. Increased temperature sensitivity is a symptom of a dental abscess, which is a bacterial infection of a tooth or the gum area next to a tooth root.

Additional dental abscess symptoms include a severe toothache, fever, or tender lymph nodes under your jawline or in your neck. If you have facial swelling too, seek emergency care. If it’s left untreated, the infection can spread throughout your body and become life-threatening.

Increased temperature sensitivity can also mean you have a cavity or that your dental enamel is thinning. A dentist can provide treatment for both of these concerns.

5. Pain

Pain can indicate that your mouth is not as healthy as it could be. While the pain may go away for a little while, it’s likely to return. Make an appointment to see your dentist for a check-up.

Tips for a Healthy Mouth

Practicing good preventive dental hygiene can go a long way towards protecting your mouth and your overall health. Here are some steps you can start taking today:

  • Brush your teeth twice per day.
  • Floss at least once per day.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Schedule cleanings and exams as recommended by your dentist.
  • Brush your tongue.
  • Use fluoride treatments and mouth rinses.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: Dec 03, 2015: Christine Frank DDS

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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