What are some other problems I might have with my mouth?

Cold sores (herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infections). If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you’re not alone. A half million people get one every year. Once exposed to this virus, it can hide in the body for years. Getting too much sun, having mild fevers that occur with a cold, or stress can trigger the virus and cause tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat, enlarged and tender lymph nodes, and cold sores. These sores are very contagious and usually form on the lips, and sometimes under the nose or under the chin. The sores heal in about seven to 10 days without scarring. You can buy medicines at the drug store or grocery store to put on the cold sore to numb or relieve the pain. If cold sores are a problem for you, talk with your doctor or dentist about a prescription for an antiviral drug to help lower your chances of getting these kinds of viral infections.

Canker sores. These common, but mostly harmless, sores appear as ulcers with a white or gray base and a red border inside the mouth. They occur in women more often than men, often during their periods. The reason why they appear is unknown but some experts believe that problems with the immune system, the system in our bodies that fights disease, bacteria or viruses may be involved. Fatigue, stress, or allergies can increase your chances of getting a canker sore. You also might get one if you have a cut inside your cheek or on your tongue. Canker sores tend to be tiny and heal by themselves in one to three weeks. If you get a large sore (larger than 1 centimeter) though, it may need to be treated with medicine. Staying away from hot and spicy foods can help the pain. Using mild mouthwashes or salt water, or swabbing the sore with milk of magnesia or with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water might also help. There is no proven way to prevent canker sores, but if you get them often, take note of anything that might be irritating your mouth, and talk to your dentist or dental hygienist.

Oral fungal or yeast infections (candidiasis [can-di-die-uh-sis]). These infections appear as red or white lesions, flat or slightly raised, in the mouth. They are common among denture wearers and occur most often in people who are very young, elderly, or who have a problem with their immune system. People who have dry mouth syndrome are also very likely to get oral yeast infections. These can be prevented with good oral hygiene. If you wear dentures, clean and remove them at bedtime. Talk with your dentist or dental hygienist about medicines that may be helpful if you have a problem with these infections.

Dry mouth syndrome. This is common in many adults, especially as they age. It may make it hard to eat, swallow, taste, and speak. It happens when salivary glands fail to work right, often as a side effect from medicines or from other health problems. If left untreated, it can lead to cavities because saliva helps rid your mouth of bits of food and helps stop acid from forming plaque on your teeth.

Oral cancer. This cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40. It is often found at late stages when it is harder to treat. This is because oral cancer is not usually painful so you may not know you have it. And many people do not visit their dentists often enough to find the cancer early. The most common sites of oral cancer are on the tongue, lips, and floor of the mouth. Use of tobacco, especially with alcohol, is the main cause for these cancers. Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth. Other signs include:

  • a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • a color change of the oral tissues
  • a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • problems chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • a change in the way the teeth fit together

Oral problems from cancer therapies. Treatments like chemotherapy or radiation to the head and neck can cause dry mouth, tooth decay, painful mouth sores, and cracked, peeling lips.