Our mouth and our teeth are essential bodily organs. They help us to eat, breathe and communicate, so we must keep them in excellent condition. If we don’t look after our oral health, we may be at risk of contracting uncomfortable, unsightly, and potentially serious health issues. Here are 5 common oral conditions and how to treat them.
Pain in the teeth can be excruciating and debilitating. Toothache can be caused by damage to a tooth, an abscess, a loose filling, tooth decay, or an infection.
If we do not clean our teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, we can develop holes or ‘dental caries.’ Tooth brushing removes a sticky film known as plaque from the teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that produce acid from the sugars in food, and this acid can eat away at tooth enamel and cause decay of the whole tooth. Fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel, making it less susceptible to damage.
Babies can experience pain when they start to grow teeth as the teeth have to break through the skin of the gums. Similarly, some individuals will get wisdom teeth pain when these teeth make an appearance during the teenage years or early adulthood.
Mouth cancer, or oral cancer, is the 6th most common cancer in the world and is more prevalent in men than women.
Tumors can develop in or on the salivary glands, tonsils, pharynx, tongue, cheeks, gums, lips, and any soft area of the mouth. The risk of developing oral cancer is thought to be increased through smoking or chewing tobacco, consuming alcohol, or being a carrier of the HPV or human papilloma virus.
A doctor or dentist should be consulted if mouth ulcers fail to heal, teeth fall out for no reason, the tip of the tongue or surface of the lips becomes numb, red patches or lumps appear in the mouth, or there is a change in speech.
Cancerous cells can be removed through surgery or destroyed by radiation and chemotherapy. However, prevention is better than a cure, so to reduce the risk of mouth cancer, a person should quit smoking, eat and balanced healthy diet, and do not drink more than the recommended number of alcohol units in a given week.
Most people experience bad breath at some point in their lifetime. An unpleasant smelling mouth can be caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Extreme bad breath is known as ‘halitosis.’ Decaying teeth, abscesses, gum disease, sinus infections, tonsillitis, and acid reflux can all make the breath smell, as can certain foods such as garlic, onion, and spicy dishes.
Infected tonsils will cause halitosis as foul-smelling tonsil stones or ‘tonsilloliths’ form in the craters of the tonsils. The body sends white blood cells to the tonsils when food, dead cells, mucus, and bacteria get caught in the tonsils instead of being swallowed because it sees them as invaders. Dead white blood cells form tonsilloliths.
Sores can appear on the lips, cheeks, tongue, gums, and any soft tissue in the mouth.
The herpes simplex virus can cause painful blisters and lumps known as cold sores to develop on the face, usually near the lips. They are very contagious, so physical contact should be avoided. Cold sores are thought to be triggered by strong sunshine, illness, or menstruation. They can be very painful and unsightly, so as soon as you feel a tingle, itch, or burning feeling, apply a suitable cream or patch to the area.
Mouth ulcers are open sores that develop inside the mouth or on the tongue. Hormonal changes, iron or vitamin B12 deficiency, certain medications, and conditions such as coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease, and Behçet’s disease can make a person more prone to getting mouth ulcers. Antimicrobial mouthwashes, saline rinses, and corticosteroid lozenges can help mouth ulcers heal. It is important to see a doctor if the sores last longer than three weeks and grow bigger as mouth ulcers can be a sign of mouth cancer.
Gum disease is also known as ‘periodontitis.’ It is a serious condition that can lead to tooth loss and damage to the bone that supports the teeth as well as the soft tissue of the gum. It is usually caused by poor dental hygiene where plaque is not removed from the teeth properly, and it hardens and irritates the gums. The gum tissue around the base of the teeth is known as the ‘gingiva,’ and inflammation of this area is called ‘gingivitis.’ Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontitis.