Six Uncommon Oral Health Problems
by Donna Pleis
Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are two of the most common oral diseases you and your family may experience at some point in your lives. Injuries to the face and head can also compromise the health of your teeth. However, here are a few less common oral health problems that may be worth seeking help with from your dentist or doctor.
Herpes isn't just a sexually transmitted disease, nor is it as stubborn as its reputation may suggest. Nonetheless, it is a fairly contagious virus that infects many children orally as well as adults. The first exposure to the herpes simplex virus is called "primary herpes," and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describes its symptoms as sore, swollen and red features affecting the gum tissue. It may also increase saliva flow and develop blisters inside your or your child's mouth. Although these sores heal in seven to 14 days, the virus remains in the body inactively. It can then become active again when dealing with stress, fatigue, fever or sun exposure. The good news is over-the-counter medication such as Colgate® Orabase® or antiviral medications can help shorten an outbreak of "cold sores" or "fever blisters" and alleviate your discomfort.
Oral cancers account for only 2 percent of the cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). The main risk factors are tobacco and alcohol use, but sun exposure often causes cancer of the lip. No matter what the ultimate cause, prevention and early diagnosis can't be stressed enough. Your dentist regularly checks for signs of oral cancer during dental visits, so this is an important reason not to miss a checkup appointment.
Temporomandibular Joint Pain
You can close and open your mouth, chew, speak and swallow through the actions of the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) located on both sides of your head. But if these joints or surrounding muscles and ligaments don't work properly, you can end up with a painful TMJ disorder. The American Dental Association (ADA) says joint pain can be caused by arthritis, poor jaw and tooth alignment, an injury or dislocation or from grinding your teeth.
Many medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, can affect the amount of saliva in your mouth, as can radiation treatments, chemotherapy and certain health conditions like AIDS and Sjögren's syndrome. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) explains that without saliva, you aren't able to wash away harmful bacteria in your mouth; therefore, aside from causing discomfort, an extremely dry mouth can lead to bad breath, mouth sores, gum disease and a higher risk of tooth decay.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a frustrating condition, occurring mostly in middle-aged or older woman, according to the NIDCR. Hormonal changes, dry mouth, nutritional deficiencies, fungal infections and nerve damage are all possible causes, and don't always result from a bad habit. Symptoms include a tingling or burning sensation on the tongue or other areas of the mouth, a dry or sore mouth or even changes in taste. These symptoms may be constant or come and go, and unfortunately they can last a few months or a few years. If you're struggling with BMS through any of these symptoms, see your doctor or dentist so that you can get to the root cause and on the road to relief.
A fungal infection called thrush can occur in your mouth when the yeast "candida albicans" replicates in large numbers, as explained by the ADA. Although it's usually seen in patients who are very young, elderly or live with weakened immune systems, it can also be caused by dry mouth, wearing dentures or a bacterial imbalance following a course of oral antibiotics. Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms of oral thrush as sore, creamy-white spots on your tongue and throughout your mouth.
You and your family are probably working hard to prevent gum disease and tooth decay, but if you are dealing with any of these uncommon oral health problems, see your dentist as soon as you can. There's no need to suffer when help is just an appointment away.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.