Icky Mouth Mysteries Solved
Without fail, you follow your dentist’s orders to keep your teeth and gums healthy — but did you know that the condition of your mouth can also shine light on other health problems? Some dental conditions such as bad breath and puffy gums can be signs of gum disease. Other oral symptoms, however, may point to seemingly unrelated health problems (hint: eroded teeth could be a sign of an eating disorder or chronic heartburn). Take a look at these oral symptoms to find out what they could be telling you about your health.
Why You Have Bad Breath
Everyone experiences stinky breath, but brushing and flossing (including brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper) should nip bad breath in the bud. What about when it doesn’t? It could be a sign of advanced gum disease, so it’s important to talk to your dentist before this oral condition ruins perfectly healthy teeth, says David M. Leader, DMD, assistant clinical professor at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston.
Most of the time, however, the biggest bad-breath culprit is your diet. “Onion, garlic, and pungent spices will produce mouth odor for hours after consumption,” Dr. Leader says. In addition, people who have uncontrolled diabetes, eat a high-protein diet, or suffer from alcoholism tend to have breath with a sweet or fruity odor, from a metabolic condition called ketoacidosis.
Swollen Gums? Here's What They Signal
Swollen gums is another sign of gum disease. Even if you believe you have healthy teeth, swollen gums absolutely require a visit to the dentist. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to tell right away if you have gum disease — but you can check for swollen gums yourself by drying your gums with a napkin or a tissue and looking in the mirror. “The surface of the gum close to the teeth should appear pebbled like a basketball, not smooth and shiny,” Leader says. And although your swollen gums may feel fine, they tend to bleed during brushing.
In addition to swelling, this dental health problem also causes red gums. (Most light- and dark-skinned people naturally have pink gums, but some people of Mediterranean and African descent have darker gums).
Uncover the Cause of Eroded Enamel
During dental erosion, the surface of a tooth or teeth gradually wears away. Any source of acid can erode the tooth enamel of healthy teeth, including acid from citrus fruits and soda. But one of the most common sources of acid in the mouth is due to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a condition in which acid from the stomach comes up the esophagus, causes heartburn, and reaches the mouth, says Leader. Another cause of this dental health problem may be bulimia, the eating disorder in which people frequently binge on a large meal and then purge by vomiting.
What's That Sour Taste in Your Mouth?
If you frequently have a sour taste in your mouth (which is often mistaken for bad breath), it could be another sign of GERD, especially if it’s accompanied by a sore throat, chest pain, and a hoarse voice, Leader warns. Besides this oral condition and dental erosion, GERD can lead to other problems such as an esophageal ulcer and inflammation of the esophagus. If you suspect you have GERD, get tested and treated as needed.
Why So Dry?
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a very common oral condition, especially as you age, Leader says. There are also more than 425 medications that include dry mouth as a side effect. But dry mouth can be related to issues beyond dental health. It’s also a common symptom of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, and Sjogren’s syndrome. If you have chronic dry mouth, you should be concerned and talk to your dentist, Leader advises. You can also find clinics that specialize in treating this condition.
Are Your Loose Teeth Trying to Tell You Something?
Loose teeth are another dental health symptom not to ignore because this may be a sign that you have gum disease, a potentially serious oral condition. Bacteria that grow below the gum line can cause tissues and bones to break down, leading to the separation of the teeth from the gums. As more tissue and bone is destroyed, the more likely you are to lose healthy teeth as they become loose and need to be pulled.
Loose teeth may also be a sign of infection or scleroderma, a disease of the connective tissue that causes changes in the skin, blood vessels, muscles, and organs.
Mouth Sore SOS
Did you know that a white or red patch on the tongue or lining of the mouth is the most common sign of oral cancer? But don’t be alarmed: Mouth sores are completely common and the chance your sore signals cancer is low. To be safe, show your dentist any sores in your mouth that don’t heal after two weeks.
Mouth sores from oral cancer tend to occur along with other oral conditions, such as a strange taste in the mouth, problems chewing, pain when you swallow, and having trouble with speech.
White or Brown Lines on Kids' Teeth?
Children who have been exposed to too much fluoride can have white or brown lines across the face of their teeth, Leader says. Other signs of too much fluoride are nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. While safe in very small amounts, “if you think your child has consumed a large quantity of fluoride toothpaste, call poison control immediately,” he urges. To protect healthy teeth, limit fluoride exposure, keep fluoride toothpaste in a safe place, and only supplement fluoride if your dentist recommends it. Remember that most community water supplies are fortified with fluoride for dental health and that fluoride can be found in some bottled water and other products such as juice.
What Burning Mouth Says About Your Health
If you’re experiencing a moderate to severe scalding sensation in your mouth, lips, or tongue, it could be an oral condition called burning mouth syndrome. Fortunately, burning mouth syndrome is not very common, Leader says. When it does occur, it can be caused by a number of medications, certain specific oral conditions, or other health issues, including nutritional deficiencies, fungal infections in the mouth, and hormone changes in women.