9 Common Dental Problems

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • We’ve all sat back in the dentist’s chair and opened wide. What exactly does your dentist see in there and what are they looking for? Cavities, gum disease, and receding gums are part of the many dental problems your dentist might identify, but what’s inside your mouth can also signal underlying health conditions. Your dentist has a good view into the state of your general health as well as your teeth and gums.

  • 1
    Tooth Decay
    Young African American girl getting teeth checked by dentist

    When plaque, a sticky film formed by bacteria, damages your tooth enamel, you have tooth decay. The bacteria produce acid that eats away at the enamel and can lead to many dental problems like cavities, toothaches and more. If you want to avoid tooth decay, minimize drinking sugary sodas and eating foods with a high acid content and—you know the drill—brush twice a day, floss, and see your dentist regularly. The dental hygienist can scrape plaque off, but you can do your part too.

  • 2
    Sensitive Teeth
    mouth sensitivity

    Sensitive teeth are a common problem and can be a sign that something is wrong. Your teeth become sensitive when the outer layer of enamel is worn or eaten away by decay, receding gums, worn fillings, and more. The underlying layer, called dentin, has tiny tubes in it that connect to the nerve. When hot or cold foods or beverages travel through the tubes to the nerve in your tooth, it causes pain. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth can help, but your dentist may need to do a fluoride treatment, crown, gum graft, or root canal in more severe cases.

  • 3
    Receding Gums
    Dentist Showing Patient Tooth Model

    There are various reasons for receding gums, but all of them need attention. Poor oral hygiene, brushing too hard, fluctuations in women’s hormones, high blood pressure, smoking, and even genetics are some of the reasons for receding gums. No matter what caused them, receded gums can expose the delicate root of the tooth and, left untreated, lead to tooth loss. Your dentist will recommend treatment based on the cause. Treatment for receding gums may include learning to brush correctly, a thorough teeth cleaning, or in some serious cases, a gum graft or other surgery.

  • 4
    Gum Disease
    Female dentist or hygienist cleaning patient's teeth

    If you have gingivitis, the less serious form of gum disease that causes red gums that bleed easily, a good professional cleaning will help. Preventing it from coming back is largely up to you. Brush and floss daily, because if you don’t deal with gingivitis, you could develop periodontitis, pockets in the gum that can become infected. Periodontitis can damage the bone and tissue that keep your teeth in place. Depending on the severity, your dentist can treat infection with topical antibiotics or refer you to a periodontist, who specializes in gum disease.

  • 5
    Gum Disease, Diabetes, and Other Health Problems

    Several health conditions can contribute to gum disease. Diabetes can cause serious damage to your gums if blood sugar levels rise and are not well controlled. Good oral health can actually help lower your blood sugar. Bacteria from periodontitis can reach your heart and cause heart disease. Osteoporosis can weaken the bones that hold teeth in place. Gum infection can also worsen kidney problems, so keeping your mouth healthy can help your whole body.

  • 6
    Bad Breath
    young man checking for bad breath

    Most of us have worried about bad breath at some point. Don’t hesitate to ask your dentist if you are concerned about it. Bad breath has many causes, including poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, medications, infections, acid reflux, and even cancer, which can create chemicals in your body that cause odor. The treatment will depend on the cause. Your dentist can analyze your situation and help you deal with it.

  • 7
    Dry Mouth and Throat
    senior man drinking from glass of water

    Dry mouth can happen to anyone, but older people are more prone to it. However, it is not a normal part of aging. Dry mouth has many causes, including certain medications, nerve damage, cancer treatments, salivary gland disease, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes. Your dentist can suggest ways to relieve dry mouth. In the meantime, you can sip water through the day, avoid drinks with caffeine, avoid tobacco and alcohol, and chew sugarless gum or have a piece of sugarless hard candy.

  • 8
    Teeth Grinding and Clenching
    Woman with jaw pain

    If you grind your teeth at night or clench them during the day, you have what dentists call “bruxism.” If you do it often enough, you can damage your teeth, develop jaw pain, or get headaches. Your dentist can recognize signs of grinding if your teeth are worn, but you should also tell them about your symptoms. Your dentist can give you a mouth guard to use at night. If you think it could be related to stress, anxiety, or a sleep disorder, talk with your primary care provider for guidance.

  • 9
    Mouth, Jaw and Bite Problems
    gloved hand pointing to dental x-ray with dental tool

    Your dentist can address health problems that go beyond the condition of your teeth and gums. They often treat mouth sores, whether they are from a scratch or irritation, or an infection like a cold sore. Dentists can diagnose and suggest treatment for jaw misalignment and problems with your bite. They routinely screen for oral cancer, which can develop anywhere in your mouth or throat. If they notice something needing further evaluation, they can refer you to a specialist.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 22
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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.
  1. Bruxism (Teeth Grinding). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bruxism/symptoms-causes/syc-20356095
  2. Sensitive Teeth. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth
  3. Decay. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/decay
  4. Dry Mouth. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/drymouth.html
  5. The Dental/Kidney Disease Connection. National Kidney
    Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/dental-kidney-disease-connection
  6. Gingivitis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gingivitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354453
  7. Oral Health: A window to your overall health. Mayo Clinic.
  8. Types of Gum Disease. American Academy of Periodontology. https://www.perio.org/consumer/types-gum-disease.html
  9. Gum Recession: Causes and Treatments. ADA Patient Smart. http://www.ada.org/en/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/ADA_PatientSmart_Gum_Recession
  10. Oral Cancer. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-cancer