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Understanding Mouth Inflammation

There is "no health without oral health." This message has been continuously echoed since the first Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health, and was the message of the 2017 World Dental Congress. Many systemic diseases first manifest themselves orally in the form of various types of mouth inflammation. Visiting a dental professional for proper assessment of oral inflammation is key to early prevention and treatment of disease.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's warning sign for problems such as infection or virus. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, inflammation includes five key symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Redness
  • Limited Function
In the oral cavity, inflammation can appear in various forms. The mouth tissues may feel sore, swollen and hot. These areas may be painful and cause difficulty opening and closing your mouth, talking or eating. In addition, a person may experience other symptoms such as a fever, burning mouth or difficulty sleeping.

What Does Inflammation Look Like?

Mouth inflammation may appear as an elevated swelling, or it may look more like a crater or ulceration. It can also look or feel like a bruise or blister. Regardless of its appearance, you should make an appointment with your dental professional as soon as you notice oral inflammation.

Common Causes of Mouth Inflammation

Several conditions in the mouth may cause inflammation. Canker sores resulting from a lip or cheek abrasion, stress, nutritional deficiencies, an impaired immune system or localized mouth burns often contribute to general oral inflammation.

Viral conditions such as herpes simplex or herpes zoster (shingles) can also cause swelling and blisters, while fungal infections such as oral thrush can irritate mouth tissue as well. Even a rare but mild allergic reaction to toothpaste can cause redness and sores.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, patients who smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco and patients with other systemic diseases or injuries to the mouth can also experience any or all of the five symptoms of inflammation. Vaping and using e-cigarettes, seen by some as a safer alternative to smoking, can still cause dry mouth and oral chemical burns, says Dentistry iQ.

Treatment for Mouth Inflammation

During a thorough assessment, a dental professional can visually examine your mouth for sores and symptoms, and ask specific questions to determine if the inflammation is the result of a minor mouth injury (maybe a burn from hot pizza), or a more serious condition (like persistent canker sores). After determining the cause of the condition, your dental professional may recommend a cleansing mouth rinse to treat the inflammation and sores.

The key to successful treatment for mouth inflammation is early intervention. Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about any changes in your mouth — not only to your teeth, but also to your gums, tongue and soft tissue. Your dental professionals are your best allies in protecting your oral health.

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