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ten common mouth issues described in words and pictures

The American Dental Association's public website,, put together photos and descriptions of ten common mouth issues. Below is a summary. Click on the pictures to learn more.
Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)

These fluid-filled blisters, caused by the herpes simplex virus type I, inconveniently crop up on the lips and chin and under the nose. They are highly contagious from onset to resolution. More bad news: they are likely to occur again and again. Dentist-prescribed anti-viral medications taken within the first days of break out can accelerate healing. Over-the-counter products can help with the symptoms of pain, itching and burning.

Tooth grinding

This is also known as bruxism and mostly happens during sleep, although it can be triggered by stress or anxiety, an abnormal bite or a new filling or crown that sits higher than adjacent teeth. Most people are unaware of this harmful habit until their dentist notices worn, flattened teeth. Symptoms can include general tooth sensitivity, toothache, headache, earache or jaw joint pain. A dentist-made bite guard (bite splint) can protect teeth and provide a “shock absorber” for the jaw joints. If grinding is stress induced, meditation, counseling and exercise can aid in relaxation.


This is an early form of gum disease, an infection of the soft tissues surrounding teeth. Symptoms include gums which are red, swollen and bleed easily, and potentially bad breath. This is a painless disease and often flies under the radar. Gum disease develops more readily in tobacco users, diabetics, pregnant women, people with crooked, hard-to-keep-clean teeth, people on certain medications, and those who don't regularly brush and floss. The good news: in the early stages, gingivitis is a reversible condition when treated by dental professionals along with excellent home care.


Thrush (candidiasis) is a yeast infection appearing as a white film on the soft tissues of the mouth. It is usually found in people with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from cancer or HIV. It is also seen in asthmatics who use steroid-based inhalers and untreated or uncontrolled diabetics whose sugary saliva supports the growth of yeast. Denture wearers may also develop thrush. After diagnosis confirmation, anti-fungal rinses or lozenges are prescribed to treat.


Each year roughly 40,000 new cases of oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of tongue are diagnosed, with men twice as likely to get cancer than women. Risk factors include tobacco use, alcohol abuse and human papilloma virus (HPV). Symptoms of mouth and throat cancer can include a sore that never heals nor goes away; red or white patches; pain, numbness or tenderness in mouth or lips; a lump or thickening; a rough, crusty spot or eroded area; difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the tongue or jaw; shifting teeth or a change in the way teeth fit together. The image above is only one example of how an oral cancer may appear.


According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research, one in four adults has an untreated cavity, also known as tooth decay, and all adults will experience this common oral condition at some point in their lives. The symptoms can include pain, sensitivity to sweet and cold, collecting food within the tooth, rough surface texture. Treatment for cavities depends on the amount of tooth decay present and can range from a simple filling, to a crown, and even a root canal. If the damage is too severe, then removal may be the only option. Reducing the chances of developing a cavity is simple: brush teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day, drink water with fluoride, avoid sugar-laden food and drink, and visit the dentist regularly.

Chipped Teeth

This condition can have many origins including tooth grinding, chewing ice or crunching potentially damaging food (hard candy, for example), or mouth piercings. A chipped tooth might be painful, or the only symptom might be a roughness to the tongue. Small chips can sometimes be smoothed away, but larger chips might require filling, a veneer or crown.


This is an advanced form of gum disease and a major cause of tooth loss in adults. According to the CDC, one in two adults over the age of thirty suffers from this often silent infection. Like gingivitis, it can be reversed if treated in the early stages, but damage can be permanent the longer it goes untreated. Symptoms include red, swollen, bleeding gums, bad breath and bad taste, loose teeth and a shifting bite. Painful abscesses can form as well. Many treatment options are available, including non-surgical, site-specific scaling and root planing.

Darkened Tooth

After trauma, a tooth may appear dark for one of two reasons: the nerve tissue within the tooth is dying, or the tooth is attempting to protect the nerve. In the case of the latter, the tooth will appear slightly darker in color than the adjacent teeth. If the tooth appears bruised, ranging from pink to gray in color, this indicates a dead pulp, and this needs a root canal, and often a crown, to treat and restore. In some cases, tooth extraction may be indicated.   

Canker Sores

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small white or gray sores with a red border which appear inside the mouth on lips, cheeks, tongue, palate and throat. They can occur singly or in multiples. The cause is unknown, but some suggest it is an immune system problem, either bacterial or viral. Trauma can lead to canker sores in some cases. Compared to fever blisters, canker sores are not contagious and resolve on their own in seven to fourteen days. Over-the-counter medicaments, topical anesthetics and antimicrobial rinses, can provide temporary relief for discomfort.

Oldest Dentistry Found in 14,000-Year-Old Tooth

In a Discovery News article by Rossella Lorenzi, it was revealed that international scientists have discovered evidence of the oldest known dentistry found in a Paleolithic man.

Researchers led by Stefano Benazzi, a paleoanthropologist a the University of Bologna, focused on a lower right second molar bearing four separate cavities. The find represents the oldest archaeological example of operative manual intervention on a pathological condition.

The patient was about 25 years old and lived in Northern Italy at the time of death. His skeletal remains, dated between 13,820 and 14,160 years old, were uncovered in 1988 in a rock shelter burial in the Veneto Dolomites near Belluno.

Flint tools were used to partially clean the infected tooth. In that era, man probably used toothpicks of bone and wood to clean food particles between teeth. Until now, there was no evidence linking toothpicking with tooth decay.

Viewing the molar under scanning electron microscopy, scientists noticed striations on the internal surface of the cavity, suggesting certain repetitive motions. Experiments carried out on tooth enamel with bone, wood, and microlithic points confirmed the striations were characteristic of chipping and scratching. Researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

Read the entire article at