What are the symptoms of dental and oral disease?
What are the symptoms of dental and oral disease?

When bacteria build up on the teeth and gums, tooth decay occurs from acids that eat away the hard outer layer — the enamel — on the surfaces of teeth. Early symptoms may include white spots on the teeth. As the cavity worsens, the color changes to light brown then becomes darker. Decay around the edges of dental fillings can weaken the fillings and cause them to break and leak.

Gum Disease
Symptoms of periodontal or gum disease include:

  • Persistent bad breath, also called halitosis, or persistent bad taste in your mouth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Teeth that have shifted or loosened
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Red, puffy gums
  • Gum tenderness or pain
  • Teeth that look longer because your gums have receded
  • Gums that have separated from your teeth
  • Teeth or gums that are very sensitive to heat and cold

Abscessed Tooth
Tooth pain, sensitivity to heat and cold, swollen glands in the neck, and fever can be signs of an abscessed tooth. Pain relievers such as aspirin will help treat the symptoms, as will rinsing your mouth with warm, salted water. However, you need to see a dentist to treat the infection in the tooth. Dentists can often save abscessed teeth when treated early.

Injured Teeth
Usually, you know when you have broken a tooth or have lost one due to an accident. Occasionally though, you can break a tooth while eating and not realize it until later. This can happen when a tooth was already cracked. People do not always realize when they have a cracked tooth. A cracked tooth is usually discovered when a person complains to their dentist of tooth pain and sensitivity to cold, heat and/or pressure.

Dry Mouth
The symptoms of dry mouth include a constant sore throat, burning sensation, problems speaking, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or dry nasal passages. Left untreated, dry mouth can damage your teeth by promoting bacterial growth.

Canker Sores
Prior to the appearance of canker sores, you may feel a tingling or burning sensation in an area inside the mouth such as the tongue, the soft palate and inside the cheeks. Then the actual sore will appear later - a round, whitish spot with a red edge or halo. Canker sores are painful and can make chewing or eating uncomfortable.

Cold Sore
The first sign of a cold sore is an itchiness and redness on a spot around the lips and sometimes under the nose or chin. The spot becomes a single blister or a group of painful, fluid-filled blisters.

Teeth Grinding or Bruxism
A dull headache, teeth sensitive to heat and cold, or a sore jaw could be a sign of teeth grinding or clenching your jaw. This is called bruxism. It often happens when you are asleep. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or even headaches and neck aches. The pain could be related to the muscles of the face, the jaw or the temporomandibular joint, located in front of the ear. These problems are called TMD, temporomandibular disorders.

Oral Cancer
If you notice any changes in the appearance of your mouth or any of the following symptoms, go to your dentist immediately because it might be a warning sign of cancer:

  • A persistent sore or irritation that does not heal
  • Color changes such as the development of a red or white patch in the mouth
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Change in bite

To learn more:

Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics
(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
MayoClinic.com provides health information written and reviewed by a team of Mayo Clinic physicians, scientists, writers and educators. This special section offers easy to understand information about most dental and oral conditions.
Dental Diseases/Conditions
The American Dental Association provides public information about various oral conditions and diseases.
Oral and throat cancer: Signs and Symptoms
(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
This site gives a complete and thorough explanation of the different types of oral cancer, their symptoms, causes and treatment.
What You Need To Know About Oral Cancer: Symptoms
(National Cancer Institute)
This online version of a cancer publication provides a list of symptoms of oral cancer. For more information about detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention; click on return to top.

next » How do I know if I am at risk for dental and oral disease?

Written by: Judi Berry, B.F.A.
Reviewed by: Michael J. Engel, D.M.D.
Last Modified: Monday October 16, 2017 10:08 AM