A mouth sore that won’t heal. A rough, crusty spot on the lip that won’t go away. A cough or hoarseness that doesn’t clear up. In some cases, these might be symptoms of mouth or throat cancer.

Others include

  • red or white patches in the mouth that won’t go away
  • pain or tenderness in the lips or throat
  • a lump or thickening in or around the mouth or throat
  • trouble chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • trouble opening your mouth
  • a change in the way your denture fits or your teeth fit together.

Mouth or oral cancer develops on the lips, in the front of the mouth or tongue, under the tongue, in the hard part of the roof of your mouth, or on the insides of the cheeks.1 Throat or oropharyngeal cancer attacks the back of the mouth, including the throat, the back part of the tongue, the soft part of the roof of the mouth, and the tonsils.

Tobacco use is the major risk factor for cancers in the front of the mouth and lips, especially when it is combined with heavy alcohol use (> 4 drinks per day). Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most of the cancers that develop in the back of the mouth or throat.


Tobacco There are several avenues you can take to help cut the cord with tobacco. Some actions you can take include

  • talking to your dentist or health care provider
  • meeting with a therapist 1-on-1
  • getting together with a group of people who also want to quit

In addition, there are several medications that also may help. They include pills, patches that you wear on your skin, and nicotine replacement gum.

Any one of these might be enough to help you quit using tobacco. Some studies indicate that a combination of actions and medications are more helpful for some people3 It often takes more than1 attempt before a person will succeed in quitting. Talk to your dentist or physician about approaches you might try.

HPV infection

Nearly 70% of cancers in the back of the mouth and throat are linked with HPV infection. Many people are exposed to HPV, but the virus usually goes away without making them sick. In some people, though, the virus doesn’t go away. Years later, it can cause any of several types of cancer to develop, including cancers of the mouth and throat.

Because HPV can lie quietly in your body without making you sick for a number of years, you can be exposed at an early age and not even know it. That’s why, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children, aged 11 through 12 years get the HPV vaccine. This will help prevent infection and may prevent cancer from developing.


Most cancers in the mouth and throat are caused by tobacco use and HPV infection. Tobacco users may find it easier to quit by using any of the actions listed above, medications, or both. To help prevent HPV infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 11- through 12- year-old children get the HPV vaccine.


Tooth decay is the first step to a cavity. Just like adults, even healthy babies can have bacteria in their mouths. Sugar from food or drinks can cause some types of this oral bacteria to produce acid, which can break the tooth down. This is tooth decay. Anytime a child younger than 6 years has tooth decay and needs a filling or has lost a tooth because of a cavity, he or she has early childhood caries (ECC).1 ECC can be painful, and it can make your child sickdsick enough to go to the emergency room or even have to stay at the hospital.



The risk of developing ECC starts with the introduction of decay-causing bacteria into a baby’s mouth. This can happen anytime a baby comes in contact with someone else’s saliva, for example, through kissing on the lips or sharing a spoon.

Sugary drinks and snacks

What your child eats or drinks can set off tooth decay. Drinks like juice, formula, soft drinks, and even milk can trigger the bacteria in the mouth to produce acid. Crackers, cereal, and other starchy or sweet food can increase the risk of tooth decay, too.


There are some steps you can take to lower your child’s risk of tooth decay: n use fluoridated water, which helps harden the outside of teeth and protects them from decay, in your child’s bottle or sippy cup; n limit sugary snacks and drinks like crackers and juices; n do not give a bottle or sippy cup to your child when he or she is going to bed or taking a nap; n take your baby to the dentist by his or her first birthday so the dentist can check your baby’s oral health and give you tips on caring for your baby’s mouth

  • start brushing as soon as that first tooth comes in (Box)
  • as soon as 2 teeth come in next to each other, start cleaning between the teeth 1 time per day.

Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about how to do this.


Baby teeth are important. Protect them from tooth decay with a healthy diet, good brushing habits, and a relationship with a dentist that starts in the first year.


Do you have pain in or around your jaw joint? Does your jaw get stuck? Do you have painful clicking or popping? Are frequent headaches, like migraines, a problem? If so, you may want to ask your dentist about temporomandibular (TEM-puh-roh-man-DIB-yoo-ler) disorders (TMDs).

Your temporomandibular joint allows you to open or close your mouth and slide your jaw from side to side or back and forth. It is a complicated system of muscles, connective tissues, and the bony joint itself. Because it is so complex, your jaw joint can develop a number of problems.

Some possible causes of TMDs include

  • diseases that affect the muscles or joints, like arthritis
  • injury to the jaw joint or connective tissues
  • habitual movements of the teeth and jaws, like grinding or clenching.

Other things, like sinus infections, can cause pain in your jaw area.1 Your dentist may want to rule some of these out before identifying TMDs as the source of your pain.


Signs and symptoms of TMDs can include

  • pain in or around the ear
  • pain when chewing
  • tender jaw muscles
  • painful clicking or popping when opening or closing the jaw
  • difficulty opening or closing the mouth; n pain when opening your mouth wide
  • headaches, facial, or neck pain.

One large, multiyear study also found that people in whom TMDs develop are more likely to report chronic somatic symptoms like runny nose, fatigue, or dizziness.2 Anxiety and depression have also been associated with TMDs.1

If TMDs are suspected, your dentist may check your joints and muscles for tenderness. He or she may listen for noises like clicking or popping, ask you about pain, or examine how your jaw moves. Symptoms may come and go or may bother you all the time. Or may go away without any treatment.


It is difficult to identify the cause of TMDs. Treatment usually focuses on relieving the symptoms associated with it. There are several things you can try that might help

  • eat softer foods
  • limit wide jaw movements
  • avoid chewing gum or biting down on anything hard
  • apply moist, warm compresses.
  • If your pain is still a problem, your dentist might suggest
  • exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles
  • medications like muscle relaxants, pain medicine, antianxiety drugs, or anti-inflammatory medications
  • a nightguard or bite plate to decrease clenching or grinding of teeth during sleep.

Your dentist also may refer you to a specialist who has experience working with patients who have dental-related pain. Be well informed before making permanent adjustments, like changing the way your teeth fit together. Ask about the credentialing and educational background of those providing the care, as well as the success rates for the particular procedure you are considering. Explore all treatment options and potential outcomes before making any permanent changes to your bite.


Because the jaw joint is so complex, it can be difficult to identify what causes pain in and around the joint. Most treatment focuses on relieving the painful symptoms. Your dentist may be able to teach you ways to reduce the discomfort that comes with TMDs or, if necessary, refer you to a specialist who can offer other treatment options.


Antibiotics fight bacterial infections. They can cure many diseases that, in the past, would have made you very sick maybe even killed you like tuberculosis. Because antibiotics are so effective, some people want to use them for everything from the common cold to a toothache. But, antibiotics don’t kill viruses, so they won’t help with the common cold, and not every toothache calls for an antibiotic.


Not all dental infections require antibiotics

A toothache, for example, might be treated at the site of the infection in the dental office rather than having you take pills at home that won’t help fight the infection.

Use only when needed

Talk to your dentist or physician about your symptoms. A fever, for example, can mean that an infection has spread beyond the original site and may respond to antibiotics. An infection that has not spread might be able to be treated at the original site without disturbing the surrounding area.

Don’t share medications

Do not share your medicine with others. Antibiotics might not help them feel better, and side effects could occur (like a rash or diarrhea), which could make them feel worse. You should only take antibiotics on the recommendation of a health professional. He or she is trained to recognize the signs of an infection that can be treated with this type of medicine.


Side effects

Antibiotics can have side effects, including

  • diarrhea from short bouts lasting less than a day to more severe cases caused by Clostridioides difficile (or C. diff), which may require care in a hospital and could be deadly, especially for older adults
  • yeast infections
  • nausea or vomiting.

Some people are allergic to certain antibiotics. They may develop a rash or have a more severe, even life-threatening reaction.

Antibiotic resistance

When bacteria are antibiotic resistant, they are no longer killed by the antibiotics. This can occur naturally, as bacteria multiply on their own or as a result of being exposed to antibiotics. This can happen when you use antibiotics improperly (for example, taking antibiotics when not needed). When bacteria are resistant to antibiotics they can grow quickly, causing illnesses that are difficult sometimes impossible to treat.

What can be done when your tooth hurts

Many things can cause pain when you bite down or eat or drink something hot or cold. Your tooth may even hurt when you do nothing at all! Causes of tooth pain include

  • injuries
  • swelling of the tissues in or around your tooth
  • bacterial infections in or around the tooth.

Injuries or swelling that cause pain without other symptoms may feel better if you take pain relievers (like aspirin or ibuprofen) or use hot or cold packs. In some cases, your dentist might recommend a root canal or other dental treatment.

Antibiotics, though, should only be taken when prescribed by a health professional. Fever, swollen glands, and extreme tiredness are signs that antibiotics might be the right choice.


Antibiotics are helpful medications, and we must use them wisely to ensure that they will continue to work against bacterial infections.


Oral health care needs change with age. Often, adults deal with issues such as missing teeth, dry mouth, or mouth and throat cancer.


There are options for replacing missing teeth. Talk to your dentist about which approach is right for you.


Bridges may be used to replace one or more missing teeth, depending on the area of the mouth and stress put on the original teeth and bridge structure. There are 2 kinds of bridges: fixed and removable. Both use artificial teeth to fill the spaces left by missing teeth. Fixed bridges are cemented to existing teeth to hold the bridge in place. They cannot be taken out. Some bridges, however, can be removed. Removable bridges have clips that snap onto existing teeth. Often, the artificial tooth or teeth in a removable bridge can be mounted in a pink acrylic base to match the gums.

Your bridge should fit comfortably and stay in place. If it doesn’t, contact your dentist. Do not try to adjust the fit of a bridge yourself.


Dentures are a full set of artificial teeth that can be put in and taken out. They are primarily held in place naturally with a thin layer of saliva. Sometimes a denture adhesive may be helpful. Your dentures should fit comfortably and not rub or cause sores. If you have trouble with the fit of your dentures, contact your dentist. As with bridges, do not try to adjust the fit of your dentures yourself. Implants Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that are surgically placed in the jawbone. Implants can be designed to hold one or more artificial teeth.


Many older adults experience constant dry mouth. A number of medications can cause dry mouth, including those taken for pain, high blood pressure, depression, and asthma. Health conditions like Parkinson disease and medical treatments like radiation of the head and neck also can cause reduced saliva.

There are some things you can do to help get some relief: sucking (not chewing) ice chips, drinking sips of water often, using a humidifier, or chewing sugar-free chewing gum.

But constant dry mouth does not just mean a lack of saliva. It can merely be the feeling that your mouth is dry, even though you are producing saliva. Whether you are producing saliva or not, contact your dentist about your symptoms.


Cancers in the mouth or back of the throat are more common in adults 65 years or older. Fortunately, the chances of survival from these cancers are good if they are treated early.

Some signs to watch for include

  • a sore on the lips or in the mouth that does not heal
  • red or white patches in the mouth that don’t go away
  • pain, tenderness, or numbness on the lips or in the mouth
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth or the way your dentures fit
  • a cough, sore throat, or earache that won’t go away.

You may notice these symptoms early. Talk to your dentist if you notice any of these and make regular visits to your dentist, which will allow him or her to check for anything unusual, too.


Oral health needs change as you age, making it important that you see your dentist regularly to stay on top of these changes


For years, dental offices have taken steps to protect patients and dental health care team members against disease transmission during treatment. You may see some of these measures in the waiting area and the clinic, but many take place behind the scenes.


Your dental office wants to keep you and other patients safe from the minute you walk in the door. Coughing and sneezing can spread germs. For that reason, you should cover your mouth and nose whenever you cough or sneeze. To help with this, many offices provide disposable masks or tissues in the waiting area to use when you are sick.

Clean hands are also important. Often there is hand sanitizer in the waiting room. To clean your hands with a sanitizer, rub a small amount of it all over the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.


You may have heard about personal protective equipment (commonly referred to as PPE), which consists of different equipment that dental care providers wear to protect them from germs spread through blood, saliva, or airborne particles. Examples of this equipment includes gloves, jackets, gowns, safety glasses, and face masks that cover the nose and mouth. For some treatments, face shields may also be worn. Most of these items are disposable used for only 1 patient and thrown away after use. Those that are not disposable must be cleaned with disinfectant between patients.

Other surfaces in the treatment area, like chairs, countertops, blood pressure cuffs, and light handles, must also be disinfected between patients.


Rest assured, any instruments used during your treatment must be clean. Some, like the tube used to suck saliva from your mouth, are disposable.

Instruments that are not disposable must be handled carefully after every patient. After your treatment, these instruments must be taken to a special area to be washed, sorted into sets for the next use, and put in a special oven called an autoclave to expose them to high heat designed to kill germs.

Even the quality of the water used during your dental treatment must be monitored. Water from the dental unit must be the same quality as drinking water.2 To achieve this, a dental office may use water from a source other than the public water system or may treat the water system. Regardless of where the water comes from, your dental office must check the quality regularly.


Dentists work hard to keep patients safe during their visits. These are only some of the steps dentists take to reduce the risk of infection. If you have questions about infection control, ask your dentist or the dental team members. n


Few things are as painful as sores or infections in or around your mouth. Mouth sores can be caused by trauma, like biting the inside of your cheeks or tongue. Most often, these heal on their own in about a week. Poorly fitting dentures also can rub and cause sores. If you develop sores from your dentures, see your dentist. He or she can make sure they are fitting properly. Do not try to adjust the fit of your dentures yourself.

Other common sores and infections include canker sores, cold sores, and oral yeast infections, like thrush.


Canker sores occur inside the mouth, usually on the cheek lining, tongue, or gums. Most often, these sores are round and small (about the size of a pencil eraser), but they can be larger. Canker sores are yellowish in the middle with a red edge around them. Some things that may contribute to canker sores include

  • biting the inside of the cheeks or tongue
  • constant dry mouth
  • family history of canker sores
  • low levels of some minerals or vitamins in the diet, such as iron, folate, and B vitamins
  • emotional stress.

These sores usually heal within 1 to 2 weeks. If they do not or if they develop often, talk to your dentist. He or she may prescribe a medicine to apply to the sore or a mouth rinse that might speed up healing and reduce pain.


Cold sores often appear on the lips. These sores come back repeatedly, often with months passing between episodes.

Before they develop, you may feel a tingling, numbness, or burning sensation around the spot where sores are about to erupt. After about 6 hours, blisters appear, which last a few days before they burst and a crusty scab forms. Cold sores can be spread easily from one person to another, especially between the time that the blisters burst and the scab forms.

These sores are caused by a virus. Although it is typically caught in childhood, the sores usually do not show up until adulthood, when something triggers an attack.2 Common triggers are

  • fever
  • exposure to the sun
  • extreme tiredness
  • hormonal changes, like pregnancy or having your period.

Cold sores usually heal between 1 and 10 days after the blisters form. Talk to your dentist or physician if you are developing cold sores. He or she may prescribe a pill or cream that might help the sores heal more quickly and may even extend the time between outbreaks.


Two common types of oral yeast infections are thrush and denture stomatitis.

Thrush is a white coating that develops on the inside of your cheeks, tongue, or the roof of the mouth. This type of infection is different from other yeast infections in that the coating can be scraped off. Thrush is typically associated with the use of steroid inhalers for breathing problems, like asthma. Rinsing the mouth with water after using the inhaler might reduce the risk of developing thrush.

Denture stomatitis is, as it sounds, an infection that is triggered mainly by dentures, although it can develop in anyone who wears an oral appliance, like a retainer or bridge. This infection shows up as red patches, usually on the roof of the mouth.3 Some causes include

  • poor oral hygiene (especially if not cleaning the denture or appliance as directed)
  • wearing the appliance too long (for example, dentures should be removed before sleeping)
  • poorly fitting dentures or oral appliances.

Tell your dentist if you notice signs of thrush or denture stomatitis. He or she may prescribe a medicine to help clear up the infection.


Canker sores, cold sores, and yeast infections can be painful, unsightly, and interfere with proper dental hygiene or nutrition. Your dentist may be able to help relieve this pain or speed up healing. Talk to him or her if you think you may be developing one of these sores or infections. n


Your teeth are more than just part of a beautiful smile. Healthy teeth help you speak clearly and allow you to eat a variety of foods, thereby helping you maintain a healthy diet. A large national study found that people older than 65 years who had good dental health tended to be healthier overall.1 So, it is important to take care of your teeth.


Research shows that more than 1 in 3 adults 65 years or older have lost 6 or more teeth. And about 1 in 10 in this age group have lost all their teeth. Leading up to the age of 65 years, however, adults seem to fair much better, with nearly 68% keeping all of their teeth.2 This suggests that after the age of 65 years, there are some thing or things that are different about oral health, the care given to teeth, gums, or both.


The most common reasons for tooth loss may be controlled with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist (Box). Often older adults lose teeth to tooth decay and gum disease. Although almost everyone has had tooth decay by the age of 65 years, nearly one-half the adults in this age bracket have untreated tooth decay or gum disease serious enough to cause tooth loss.

Sometimes tooth loss is not easily controlled. Some people with certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes seem to lose more teeth as they age than people who do not have those diseases.1 Although it is not clear whether one causes the other, you should let your dentist know if you have any chronic disease.

Certain medications, taken regularly, can cause chronic dry mouth. Without enough saliva to wash food particles out of your mouth when chewing and to bathe your teeth in fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, you are at greater risk of tooth decay. This is why it is important for you to keep your dentist up-to date on any medications or supplements you may be taking.

Taking care of your teeth

The best ways to help control tooth decay and gum diseased -2- major causes of tooth loss are good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist.

Good oral hygiene involves the following:

  • brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day for 2 minutes each time (you can use a manual or powered toothbrush, whichever is easier to handle)
  • cleaning between your teeth with a product designed for that purpose special picks, brushes, dental floss, or a water flosser.

Your dentist also may suggest a mouth rinse to provide extra help in preventing tooth decay. See your dentist regularly, and at every visit be sure to tell him or her about your overall health and any medicines or supplements you are taking.


The risk of experiencing tooth loss may increase as you age. Good oral hygiene at home and regular visits to your dentist may help reduce this risk. These measures will allow you to enjoy your teeth throughout your life. They will give you more than just a good looking smile


Dentists have a number of options for helping bring a whiter smile forward.


There are 2 types of stains: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic stains discolor the surface of the tooth over time. They develop by repeated exposure to the same types of foods or beverages that would stain your clothes. Drinks like coffee, tea, and red wine are the most common culprits. Smoking, also can make your teeth yellow or even brownish.

Intrinsic stains occur under the hard, outer surface of your teeth, called enamel. They may appear as you age when the enamel may become thinner, allowing the yellowish dentin to show through. Other causes of intrinsic stains are things that affect the whole tooth, like an injury.


There are many choices for whitening:

  • over-the-counter products
  • dentist-dispensed trays and
  • in-office treatments.

Over-the-counter options

There are a number of whitening products on store shelves. The most common are toothpastes or whitening strips. Many whitening toothpastes scrub stains from your teeth. Some also may contain low levels of peroxide, a chemical that helps lighten teeth. Many can be used every time you brush. Whitening strips have a thin layer of peroxide-containing gel that can be applied directly to your teeth. Whitening strips typically involve leaving the strip on for a few hours a day over the course of 1 through 2 weeks. As with all dental products, look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, which shows that they meet standards for both safety and effectiveness.

Trays dispensed by the dentist

Your dentist can make a tray that you coat with a whitening gel and wear for a few hours, usually overnight. You’ll wear this tray for a few nights before seeing results. Because the amount of peroxide in this gel is greater than that of over-the-counter products, your teeth may brighten faster.

In-office procedures

In-office procedures also rely on peroxide, but the gel applied contains a stronger level of peroxide than that used in the at home versions. The dentist applies a gel, and then may use a light to speed up a chemical reaction to whiten the teeth. This is the most expensive approach, but it can often be done in just a single office visit and usually offers the most noticeable results.


When peroxide is used, whether it is in strips or gels, the whitening process is often referred to as bleaching. Bleaching relies on a chemical reaction to lighten the color of your teeth rather than just removing surface stains. Beyond lightening your teeth, bleaching can have some unintended effects, like sensitive teeth or irritated gums.1 The level of peroxide in the gel seems to determine the extent of the effect more peroxide may lead to more intense effects. The good news is, these side effects are usually temporary.


You can talk to your dentist about the look you want to achieve and how much time and money you would like to invest in the process. He or she can also fill you in on limitations. For example, some stains may not be removable. And tooth-colored fillings or dental crowns will not bleach at all, so you might not achieve an even whitening.


Depending on how bright you would like your smile to be and the amount of time and money you are willing to invest, you have a number of choices for whitening your teeth.


Whether you have an emergency toothache or just need a dental cleaning, dentists throughout the country are ready to treat you. The American Dental Association has developed steps every dentist can take to help create a safe office environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Your appointment may be different from what you are used to. The differences may start before you even come into the office. Before your appointment, someone may call to ask questions about several symptoms related to COVID-19 to help ensure that you are not sick. The caller may also explain steps you should take when you arrive for your appointment. For example, you may be asked to wait outside the office until someone calls your mobile phone to tell you to come in, or you may be asked to bring a mask to wear when entering the office. Once you arrive at the office, someone may take your temperature, ask again about how you are feeling, and complete additional paperwork.


Dentists take several precautions to keep the clinic clean and help make treatment safe. Some equipment in the treatment room is disposable. For example, plastic covers on some handles and the plastic tube that used to remove saliva from your mouth must be thrown away after each patient. Equipment that is not discarded must be cleaned and disinfected between patients.

During treatment, dentists and the dental staff members wear personal protective equipment. This equipment can include items such as disposable gloves, specially fitted masks, protective eyewear, and sometimes a face shield.


Steps to keep treatment safe do not stop in the operatory. As mentioned, the treatment area must be cleaned and disinfected after each patient. In addition, instruments must always be prepared for the next patient. Some instruments are used only once and then disposed of. Instruments that are not disposable are cleaned and sterilized in an area dedicated to that purpose.


Regular visits to your dentist are important to help prevent and treat if needed dental diseases that can cause more serious problems if left undetected. Do not let COVID19 keep you away. Dentists are experts in infection control and are taking steps to keep their patients safe. Ask if you have any questions. Your dentist and dental team members are happy to help.

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