What is mouth problems?

Mouth Problems
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Mouth problems, noninjury: Overview

It is not unusual to have a problem with your mouth from time to time. A mouth problem can involve your gums, lips, tongue, or inner cheeks, the roof of your mouth (soft and hard palates), under your tongue, your neck, or your teeth. Your mouth may be dry, or food may not taste right. You may have bad breath or a sore on your lip, gums, or tongue that makes it hard to eat or talk. Many of these problems can get better with home treatment.

Common mouth problems include:

  • Sores, such as cold sores (also called fever blisters) and canker sores. Canker sores form inside the mouth, while cold sores and impetigo usually affect the area around the outside of the mouth.
  • Infections. These can be caused by a virus (such as herpes simplex) or by bacteria (such as epiglottitis, or impetigo, or a sexually transmitted infection). An infection is more serious when it causes rapid swelling of the tongue or throat and blockage of the airway.
  • Tender, red splits or cracks at the corner of your mouth (angular cheilitis). These can be caused by infection, a diet too low in vitamins, and over-closure of the mouth in someone who has been without teeth or dentures for some time.
  • Chapped lips. They can be caused by dry, windy, cold, or very hot weather.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia). A common cause of dry mouth is dehydration. Over time, having a dry mouth increases your risk of mouth infections, gum disease, and dental cavities.
  • Thick, hard, white patches inside the mouth that can't be wiped off (leukoplakia). This is commonly caused by irritation of the mouth, such as from a rough tooth or poorly fitting dentures rubbing against tissue or from smoking or using smokeless (spit) tobacco.
  • Thrush. This is a common infection of the mouth and tongue. It's caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Thrush appears on the mouth and tongue as white patches that look like cottage cheese or milk curds. When the patches are wiped away, the area underneath looks red and raw and may bleed. In babies, thrush may cause a rash in the diaper area.
  • Taste changes. Your sense of taste may be decreased, lost, or changed, such as a metallic taste in your mouth.

Your tongue may become sore or swollen, or it may change color or texture. A buildup of food and bacteria on the tongue may make the tongue look thick or furry ("hairy tongue"). Often the problems will go away if the surface of the tongue is regularly brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush. If your tongue problem is from some local irritation, such as tobacco use, the tongue problem may clear up when you remove the source of the irritation. Rapid swelling of the tongue can be caused by an allergic reaction, which can interfere with breathing.

Bad breath (halitosis) or changed breath can make you feel embarrassed. Make sure that you brush your teeth twice each day and floss once a day to decrease the bacteria that can cause bad breath. Brushing your tongue can also help.

The use of alcohol and tobacco can cause many mouth problems. Your chances of having oral cancer are higher if you smoke, use smokeless (chew) tobacco, or use too much alcohol.

Mouth problems may occur more often with other conditions and diseases, such as diabetes, Down syndrome, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Many medicines also can cause mouth problems.

Caring for chapped lips

Try these tips to help treat chapped lips.

  • Avoid licking or biting your lips.
  • Avoid sun or wind exposure, and use a lip balm with sunscreen.
  • For severely chapped lips, build a barrier by applying petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline.
  • Use a humidifier in your home. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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