A sore that isn’t healing
If you notice a mouth sore, a lump or a red or pale patch of skin on your tongue, cheek or gum, keep an eye on it for a couple of weeks. If it doesn’t go away, see your dentist ASAP. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer means a much better chance of recovery. That’s why dental professionals should do a cancer screening at your regular visits, even if you haven’t noticed any symptoms. And you can check yourself at home once a month. Ask your dental care providers how to do a self-exam. “It’s not difficult to do,” says Mandy Hayre, Chair of Vancouver Island University’s Dental Hygiene Diploma Program. “It just takes a mirror and good lighting.”
Pain and swelling
If you have unexplained pain or puffiness in your mouth that persists for a couple of days, bite the bullet and call your dentist. It could be a sign of infection, decay, gum disease or a cracked tooth. Left untreated, these problems can worsen and even lead to tooth loss. Don’t delay, especially if the symptoms are disturbing your sleep. “You absolutely have to go to your dentist,” says Hayre.
A bad smell or taste in your mouth
Foul-smelling breath could be a consequence of that sliced onion you had on your lunch salad. Or it could mean you’re not looking after your teeth and gums properly, and there’s a build-up of bacteria. But sometimes bad breath signals other health problems like gum disease, sinusitis, throat or lung infections, tooth decay or an abscess. A bad taste in the mouth can also be a sign of an oral infection.
You may not realize your mouth smells rank. So if your spouse or partner comments on your bad breath, consider it a courtesy – and call your dentist’s office.
If you have a loose tooth, see your dentist
Of course, a wiggly tooth is perfectly natural when you’re six years old. But when you’re forty-six, you need to see a dentist about it. “The number-one cause of loose teeth is gum disease,” says Hayre. And since gum or periodontal disease can cause tooth loss, it’s important to get your oral health back on track.
Occasionally, a loose tooth can be a sign of oral cancer. An accidental impact to your mouth can also loosen a tooth or two. Either way, you shouldn’t ignore a tooth that’s less than solid, because that’s not normal for adults.
Wisdom tooth symptoms
Is your third set of molars, also known as your wisdom teeth, giving you grief? If there isn’t enough space for them at the back of the mouth, they can become impacted. It’s a common problem that can have no symptoms at all. But sometimes impacted teeth cause tenderness, swelling and other symptoms.
Impacted or partially erupted teeth can attract a buildup of plaque and debris, and they may even cause a shift in the alignment of your other teeth. If you’re noticing soreness or swelling near your back molars, it’s important to have them checked. The earlier these troublesome teeth are removed, the smoother the recovery process.
If your mouth is generally feeling fine, your dentist will recommend a regular appointment schedule, such as every six months. But when it comes to certain signs and symptoms, you shouldn’t wait. Remember, most oral health problems have a better outcome when they’re, well, nipped in the bud.