Mouth and Teeth Problems

Problems of the Mouth and Teeth

Proper dental care — including a good diet, frequent cleaning of the teeth after eating, and regular dental checkups — is essential to maintaining healthy teeth and avoiding tooth decay and gum disease.

Common mouth and dental diseases and conditions — some of which can be prevented, some of which cannot — are :

Disorders of the Mouth

  • Aphthous stomatitis (canker sores). A common form of mouth ulcer, canker sores occur in women more often than in men. Although their cause isn't completely understood, mouth injuries, stress, dietary deficiencies, hormonal changes (such as the menstrual cycle), or food allergies can trigger them. They usually appear on the inner surface of the cheeks, lips, tongue, soft palate, or the base of the gums, and begin with a tingling or burning sensation followed by a painful sore called an ulcer. Pain subsides in 7 to 10 days, with complete healing in 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects in which the tissues of the mouth and/or lip don't form properly during fetal development. Children born with these disorders may have trouble feeding immediately after birth. Reconstructive surgery in infancy and sometimes later can repair the anatomical defects, and can prevent or lessen the severity of speech problems later on.
  • Enteroviral stomatitis is a common childhood infection caused by a family of viruses called the enteroviruses. An important member of this family is coxsackievirus, which causes hand, foot, and mouth disease. Enteroviral stomatitis is marked by small, painful ulcers in the mouth that may decrease a child's desire to eat and drink and put him or her at risk for dehydration.
  • Herpetic stomatitis (oral herpes). Children can get a mouth infection with the herpes simplex virus from an adult or another child who has it. The resulting painful, clustered vesicles, or blisters, can make it difficult to drink or eat, which can lead to dehydration, especially in a young child.
  • Periodontal disease. The gums and bones supporting the teeth are subject to disease. A common periodontal disease is gingivitis — inflammation of the gums characterized by redness, swelling, and sometimes bleeding. The accumulation of tartar (a hardened film of food particles and bacteria that builds up on teeth) usually causes this condition, and it's almost always the result of inadequate brushing and flossing. When gingivitis isn't treated, it can lead to periodontitis, in which the gums loosen around the teeth and pockets of bacteria and pus form, sometimes damaging the supporting bone and causing tooth loss.

Disorders of the Teeth

  • Cavities and tooth decay. When bacteria and food particles stick to saliva on the teeth, plaque forms. The bacteria digest the carbohydrates in the food and produce acid, which dissolves the tooth's enamel and causes a cavity. If the cavity isn't treated, the decay process progresses to involve the dentin. The most common ways to treat cavities and more serious tooth decay problems are: filling the cavity; performing root canal therapy, involving the removal of the pulp of a tooth; crowning a tooth with a cap that looks like a tooth made of metal, porcelain, or plastic; or removing or replacing the tooth. A common cause of tooth decay in toddlers is "milk bottle mouth," which occurs when a child goes to sleep with a milk or juice bottle in the mouth and the teeth are bathed in sugary liquid for an extended period of time. To avoid tooth decay and cavities, teach your kids good dental habits — including proper tooth-brushing techniques — at an early age.
  • Impacted wisdom teeth. In many people, the wisdom teeth are unable to erupt normally so they either remain below the jawline or don't grow in properly. Dentists call these teeth impacted. Wisdom teeth usually become impacted because the jaw isn't large enough to accommodate all the teeth that are growing in and the mouth becomes overcrowded. Impacted teeth can damage other teeth or become painful and infected. Dentists can check if a person has impacted wisdom teeth by taking X-rays of the teeth. If the X-rays show there's a chance that impacted teeth may cause problems, the dentist will usually recommend that the tooth or teeth be extracted.
  • Malocclusion is the failure of the teeth in the upper and lower jaws to meet properly. Types of malocclusion include overbite, underbite, and crowding. Most conditions can be corrected with braces, which are metal or clear ceramic brackets bonded to the front of each tooth. The wires connecting braces are tightened periodically to force the teeth to move into the correct position.