A gum sore that just won’t go away. Persistent tooth pain. Discomfort when eating hot or cold foods. A little bleeding during routine flossing.
There are dozens of oral health symptoms that fall somewhere between the “ignore” and “immediately address” categories. Which symptoms demand urgent action? Dr. Dental asked experienced dentists about those conditions that you simply can’t put off.
Let’s examine some different oral health symptoms that definitely deserve critical consideration:
Some Common and Unexpected Symptoms
According to Dr. Robin Gallagher, D.M.D., “a good oral cancer screening should be completed at every dental check-up. Any sore that doesn’t heal within three or four days should be examined, as should any lump or change in the mouth, such as a dark patch or freckle.”
The common skin cancer melanoma can be detected inside the mouth cavity, something most people aren’t aware of. “Melanoma can be intra-oral,” said Dr. Gallagher, head of Chestnut Hill Dental in Flourtown, PA. Other concerns include difficulty swallowing, a possible indicator or esophageal carcinoma, benign acid reflux or other esophagus-related problem.
Remember, “oral health” isn’t just about the mouth. Aside from persistent pain (enough to give you sleepless nights), uncontrollable bleeding and lumps and discolorations, keep an eye (and hand) on your thyroid area. Mark Helm, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, CA, said, “Any change in size in the thyroid area, or feeling of lumps on the side of the neck, especially if swallowing becomes difficult, should be examined at once.”
Soft tissue problem spots also should get an immediate examination, according to Dr. Helm. “Swelling of the gums, or tongue, cheeks, or any oral soft tissues that does not resolve itself” could indicate a larger problem beyond the actual swelling.
The Perils of Disciplined Dental Care
For those of us who always brush two or three times a day, floss regularly and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash religiously, complacency can set it. In other words, some symptoms tend to be more easily dismissed among those folks that practice ultra-disciplined dental care.
But the dentists at Southern Dental Care in Marrero, LA, warn against some “common” symptoms that might otherwise avoid detection.
Social disadvantages aside, bad breath “could be a sign of things like advanced gum disease or halitosis.” And don’t blame bad breath exclusively on pungent foods. “It can also be caused by diabetes, a high-protein diet, or extensive alcohol consumption,” said Lacey Andreotta DDS.
Dry mouth and sensitivity to hot and cold food and beverages should also not be dismissed outright. And with dry mouth, keen attention to certain symptoms can help detect disease elsewhere in the body. For example, “dry mouth can be a lot more troubling than you might think,” said Dr. Andreotta. “It is a common sign of diabetes, scleroderma or even rheumatoid arthritis.” Dr. Andreotta also mentioned that eczema is another possible warning sign of dry mouth.
Nobody like tooth decay, so nobody should ignore pain, discomfort and other negative indicators to hot or cold foods. “If you are experiencing enamel decay, you may begin to feel sensitive to hot and cold sensations,” said Dr. Andreotta. “Once decay hits the center of the tooth, where the nerves are, it will become much more shocking and painful. This could be a sign of cavities or less serious problems such as bruxism or teeth grinding.” Regardless, sensitivity to hot and cold foods warrants a call to your dentist for an examination.
Other Uncommon Symptoms
You might not have ever heard of actinic cheilitis or lichen planus, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Tsippora Shainhouse of Rapaport Dermatology (Beverly Hills, CA) said that actinic cheilitis (lip inflammation) is recognized by “non-healing or recurrent pink, scaly patches around the mouth or on the lip line that do not resolve after months of lip balm.” If left untreated, they could develop into pre-cancerous lesions caused by sun.
Lichen planus, meanwhile, are “sore, burning patches with white streaks on the pink part of inner cheeks, inner lips, gums and the roof of the mouth” that are not associated with acute burns (from food or beverages, for example). A common autoimmune response, lichen planus can be treated if it is properly diagnosed.
“Up to 80% of the US population carries the herpes (HSV 1) virus in their blood, but not everyone actually develops a cold sore, said Dr. Shainhouse. “If you are one of the unlucky ones who develops painful, long-lasting cold sores or gets more than 5-6 outbreaks a year, see your dermatologist to see if you should taking a daily anti-viral medication to prevent outbreaks. Or, you can get a prescription to take at the first sign of a new lesion.”
Have you experienced any of the above symptoms? If you’re unsure about your oral health, stop in and see us today! Dr. Dental has 40 offices across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Call us today at (877) 776-9833.