5 Dental Symptoms and What They Mean

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • We all want a bright, healthy smile, but sometimes you may experience dental symptoms that indicate a problem in your oral health. From pain to bad breath, these symptoms could have a number of causes, so discuss any problems you’re having with your dentist to get a diagnosis. It’s important not to ignore any new dental symptoms because any issue with your oral health could end up being a serious complication if it goes undetected and untreated.

  • 1
    african american man holding painful jaw

    A toothache indicates there’s a problem, but it can have many different causes. And dental pain can show up in a variety of ways—dull, sharp, achy or throbbing. The pain could be severe enough to disturb your concentration or your sleep. Some specific symptoms and possible causes include:

    • Sharp pain. If you bite into an apple and suddenly feel sharp pain, you may have tooth decay, a loose filling, or even a crack in your tooth. These could cause tissue damage inside your tooth.

    • Constant, severe pain. If you experience severe pain along with swelling in your gums, you may have an abscessed tooth that has caused an infection in the bone or tissue around the tooth.

    • Aching pain and pressure in upper teeth. Grinding your teeth or a sinus headache could cause this type of pain.

  • 2
    Bleeding or receding gums
    middle aged man grimacing while brushing his teeth

    If your gums are bleeding regularly, this is a sign of a problem in your oral health. One cause could simply be brushing your teeth too hard, but you may have one of several more serious oral health problems, including:

    • Gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums due to a buildup of plaque on the teeth, which is often caused by not brushing and flossing regularly.

    • Periodontitis, a disease that develops in the gums and jaw bone when gingivitis goes untreated. It can lead to tooth loss if not addressed.

    • An infection in a tooth or your gums

    • A vitamin deficiency

    • Poor-fitting dentures or implants

    Leukemia, which is cancer of the blood

  • 3
    Bad breath
    young woman holding her hands over her mouth

    Bad breath, also called halitosis, can indicate you aren’t brushing and flossing properly. You can typically correct this at home by brushing twice a day and flossing daily, along with visiting your dentist for a cleaning every six months. However, bad breath has other causes too, some of which can be serious. These causes include:

    • Dry mouth. You can often fix this by drinking more water, but it could also indicate there’s a problem with your salivary glands or that you have some other medical condition.

    • Smoking

    • An infection. This can be a result of tooth decay (cavities), gingivitis, or a complication of oral surgery.

    • Tonsil stones. These are small stones covered in bacteria that form in the back of your mouth near the tonsils.

    • Acid reflux or cancer

  • 4
    Sensitive teeth
    girl eating ice cream cone and has tooth pain because of cold

    If you experience discomfort when eating or drinking something hot or cold, you may have sensitive teeth due to your gums have receding from the teeth and exposing the roots. This condition can be caused by a variety of situations, including:

    • Brushing too hard

    • Plaque buildup, gingivitis or periodontitis

    • Cracked tooth. Sometimes cracked teeth are difficult to pinpoint if the pain symptoms are off and on rather than constant. But it’s best to have pain checked out to ensure a cracked tooth is discovered as soon as possible in order to save the tooth.

    • Tooth whitening toothpastes or those with baking soda and peroxide can cause sensitive teeth.

    • If you’re between 25 and 30 years old, you may have more sensitive teeth.

    • Eating lots of acidic foods, which can wear away tooth enamel
  • 5
    Mouth sores
    young woman holding side of mouth in pain

    While mouth sores, sometimes called canker sores, can be very painful, they often don’t indicate a serious problem. The cause of mouth sores is unknown, and they typically heal on their own. However, mouth sores can have other causes, such as:


    If you notice a spot in your mouth that does not heal on its own or changes over time, see your dentist right away to be screened for oral cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 13
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.