Oral Health: Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore

Medically Reviewed by Evan Frisbee, DMD on October 31, 2021
4 min read

Nearly 9 in10 diseases can cause symptoms in your mouth. That puts your dentist on the front line for spotting serious health conditions developing silently in your body. This is one reason it's so important to see your dentist at least two times a year for dental cleanings and checkups.

When caring for your teeth and gums at home, it's also important to watch for new problems in your mouth. They may be warning signs of more serious conditions in your body. Symptoms to look out for include:

If you notice any of these signs, see your dentist right away. Your dentist can diagnose specific dental issues that may be developing. Or they can refer you to another health care professional for further evaluation and treatment.

Along with symptoms such as cold sores, jaw and mouth pain are often signs of stress. Stress can contribute to a number of physical and mental disorders. And your dentist can help you identify the source of jaw discomfort, which is often caused by simple and treatable conditions such as a toothache, sinus problems, or gum disease.

It's also important to know that pain or discomfort in the jaw can mean that you are having a heart attack. Knowing this, and recognizing other common heart attack symptoms, could help save your life or that of a loved one.

Gums that ache or bleed may be the result of gum disease that is getting worse. Gum disease is often more severe in people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, which reduces the body's resistance to infection. This puts your gums at risk for inflammation due to the bacteria that live in plaque. Other oral signs of diabetes include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Fruity smelling breath
  • Oral fungal infections

Teeth that move or fall out unexpectedly are a sign of advanced gum disease. Tooth loss can also be one of the early signs of osteoporosis, which decreases bone density and weakens your bones.

Some studies show a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw, which anchors the teeth. Especially common in seniors, tooth loss can occur when osteoporosis affects the jaw. Tooth loss affects approximately one-third of adults ages 65 and older.

Affecting nearly 10 million Americans, osteoporosis frequently goes undiagnosed until you fracture or break a bone. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those who do not have the disease. By seeing your dentist regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting regular physical activity, you can get the jump on being diagnosed and treated before any serious injuries occur.

Erosion and translucent tooth enamel are often signs of an eating disorder or acid reflux problem. Excessive vomiting, such as seen with bulimia, can lead to other oral health issues such as:

Bad breath can result from a dry mouth or the foods and drinks you consume. But gum disease and gingivitis can also contribute to the annoying recurrence of bad breath.

Beyond your teeth and gums, bad breath that persists can result from certain underlying health problems that require immediate medical attention. These conditions include:

Sores and unusual patches in your mouth can be a sign of something benign like a white or yellowish canker sore. But without seeing a dentist there's no way to be sure. Have your dentist check out any new lesions, patches, or lumps right away. These can be the result of an oral fungal infection or something more serious.

Oral cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the Unites States. It often starts as a small white or red spot or sore in the mouth and occurs most often in smokers or people who use any other forms of tobacco or alcohol. Signs that you may have oral cancer include:

  • Bleeding sores that don't easily heal
  • Hard spots or rough areas
  • Discolored tissue
  • Changes in the way teeth fit together
  • Numbness
  • Lumps or irregular tissue in the mouth, cheeks, neck, or head

Oral cancer is not something you should try to diagnose at home. If you see any of these signs in your mouth, be sure to see your dentist, who can refer you to the appropriate specialists for care, if needed.

Show Sources


Academy of General Dentistry: "Importance of Oral Health to Overall Health;" "Stress and Your Teeth;" "Warning Signs in the Mouth Can Save Lives;" "Oral Warning Signs Can Indicate Serious Medical Conditions;" "Dentists Help Confirm Osteoporosis;" and "Talk to Your Dentist About Sex."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Halitosis: Overview."

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center: "Oral Health and Bone Disease."

National Eating Disorders Association: "Dental Complications of Eating Disorders."

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