Cold sores (also called fever blisters).
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Cold Sores

Also called fever blisters, you don't get cold sores from fevers or colds but they can be triggered by them. The virus that causes cold sores is usually passed via a kiss, shared utensils, or other close contact. Over-the-counter creams and ointments may help discomfort and speed healing. Frequent sores may require a prescription. Cold sores are a top mouth problem. Other problems include canker sores, TMJ, bad breath, and mouth cancer.

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Thrush is caused by Candida yeast.
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Caused by candida yeast, thrush is most common in older adults or babies. But a weakened immune system, antibiotics, diabetes, or certain medications -- such as  inhaled corticosteroids -- can give candida a chance to grow wild. Wiping away the patches will cause soreness. See a doctor for a firm diagnosis.

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Black hairy tongue.
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Black Hairy Tongue

This painless condition occurs when the little bumps on your tongue grow long and trap bacteria that live in your mouth -- making the tongue look black and hairy. Causes can include antibiotic use, poor oral hygiene, smoking, drinking a lot of tea or coffee, and not producing enough saliva. Brushing the tongue and using a tongue scraper is usually all you need to treat it, though sometimes medication is necessary.

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Canker sores (also called aphthous ulcers).
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Canker Sores

No one knows what causes these small, painful blisters inside your mouth. Triggers include hypersensitivity, infection, hormones, stress, and not getting enough of some vitamins. Also called aphthous ulcers, canker sores can show up on the tongue, cheek, even your gums. They usually last a week or two. Persistent, severe canker sores can be treated with numbing creams, prescription drugs, or dental lasers.

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Leukoplakia is often mistaken for thrush.
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Leukoplakia is a reaction to an irritant, like rough teeth, badly fitting dentures, smoking, and smokeless tobacco. It can show up as white patches or plaques in the mouth, is usually painless, and can't be scraped off. Leukoplakia can also be a precancerous condition. Persistent patches or other changes in your mouth need a dentist's evaluation.

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Lichen planus.
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Lichen Planus

A rare rash that shows up as lacy, white patches or red shiny bumps on the inside of the cheeks or tongue could be lichen planus. No one knows what causes it. Generally, mild lichen planus doesn't need any treatment. If it causes pain or ulcers, it can be treated with oral and topical medication. Oral lichen planus can be chronic and may increase the risk for oral cancer. Lichen planus can also affect skin, scalp, nails, and genitals.

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Geographic tongue.
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Geographic Tongue

When parts of your tongue are missing some of their small bumps, you end up with raised and lowered spots, giving your tongue a map-like appearance. The spots can change location, pattern, and size within minutes to hours. Geographic tongue is harmless and can come and go. It usually doesn't need any treatment. If there's pain, over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can help.

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Oral cancers, mouth cancer.
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Oral Cancer

A mouth sore that doesn't go away. Unexplained numbness in the face, mouth, or neck. Problems chewing, speaking or swallowing. These are a few symptoms of oral cancer. Causes can include smoking cigarettes and using smokeless tobacco, drinking heavily, overexposure to the sun, and a family history of cancer. Oral cancer has also been linked to the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Don't let fear keep you from the doctor -- oral cancer that is caught early is treatable and curable.

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TMJ -- temporomandibular joint syndrome.
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A problem with the jaw called temporomandibular joint syndrome can cause  severe pain in the jaw, face, ear, or neck. Clenching, tooth grinding, or injury can all cause TMJ syndrome, but the results are often the same: pain, headaches, dizziness, even trouble swallowing. Treatment may involve rest, moist heat, a mouth guard, medication, or surgery.

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Cracked, chipped, broken teeth.
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Chipped Teeth

Munching on ice or hard candies, grinding or clenching teeth, even exposing teeth to heat and cold can lead to chips, cracks, and breaks in your teeth. Tiny chips or cracks may not be a bother. But anything more could lead to pain or permanent tooth damage. Your dentist can offer dental bonding, tooth contouring, porcelain veneers, and crowns to fix badly damaged teeth.

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Amalgam tattoo.
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Amalgam Tattoo

Ever notice a small blue-gray "stain" in a soft part of your mouth after dental work? Called amalgam tattoos, they occur when a tiny piece of amalgam filling gets embedded in your cheek or gum. The silver in the amalgam leaches into your mouth's soft tissue, resulting in what looks a bit like a tiny tattoo. Amalgam tattoos pose no harm. But if the blue-gray spot grows or changes color, there is a good possibility it may not be an amalgam tattoo. Ask your dentist to check it out.

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Gingivitis (gum disease) always needs treatment.
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Gum Disease

When periodontal (gum) disease develops, bacteria in plaque accumulate along the gum line. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. Symptoms include red, puffy, and bleeding gums. Proper oral hygiene can help prevent periodontal disease. Smoking, poor diet, and stress can make it worse.

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Periodontal disease can lead to receding gums.
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The next stage of gum disease is periodontitis, or gum infection. Increased inflammation causes the gums to recede, forming pockets between the teeth and gums. These pockets trap tartar, plaque, and food debris that eventually lead to infection and abscesses. Advanced gum disease damages the bone that supports teeth and is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in adults. See your dentist to treat receding gums.

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Aspirin burn.
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Aspirin Burn

Ever let an aspirin nestle in your cheek, near an aching tooth? While you may hope this relieves pain faster, instead the acid in the aspirin burns a white, rough lesion into your gums or cheek. Preventing aspirin burn is simple -- swallow those pain relievers! Treatment for aspirin burn is just as basic: Time. Simple burns should heal in about two weeks.


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Cavities, abscesses, yellow teeth, tooth problems.
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Cavities, Abscesses, Discoloration

Flossing, brushing, and rinsing daily and regular dental checkups help prevent problems like cavities, abscesses, and tooth discoloration. Don't mess around with a severe toothache. Dental infections can spread to the face, skull, and even to the bloodstream. See your dentist as soon as possible if your tooth aches or if you have a fever, earache, or pain when you open your mouth wide.

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Treating bad breath (also called halitosis).
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Bad Breath

Unbrushed teeth have food particles around them that promote bacteria and cause bad breath. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth may be from continuous breathing through your mouth, dry mouth, tooth decay, a sign of gum disease, or even diabetes. Fight bad breath by brushing your teeth and tongue, flossing and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash daily, drinking water, and avoiding food triggers. See your dentist if bad breath persists.

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lie bumps or transient lingual papillitis
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"Lie" Bumps

According to an old wives' tale, telling a lie causes a bump on the tongue. So-called "lie bumps" or transient lingual papillitis are common even if you tell only the truth. These small, harmless bumps go away on their own after a few days, but they may be uncomfortable. Their cause is a mystery -- it could be a reaction to a food or a minor trauma like biting the tongue. You don't need to treat them, although oral anesthetics may relieve discomfort.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/31/2020 Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on July 31, 2020

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(17) Photo courtesy of New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated /


Aetna, Inc.
American Dental Association.
Consumer Reports web site.
Delmar's Dental Assisting.
Gator Dental Associates.
Medscape Today.
Oral Cancer Foundation.
State Government of Victoria.
The Mount Sinai Medical Center.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on July 31, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.