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Five Common Oral Diseases and How They're Treated

It's estimated that 3.5 billion people globally experience oral diseases, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). That's a little less than half of the world's population.

The good news is that you can prevent most common oral diseases in your own household. These diseases include dental cavities, gum disease, oral infectious diseases, and oral cancer. Although not a disease, per se, oral injuries are preventable since they mostly result from unsafe conditions, accidents, and the social disease of violence.

If you can't prevent them, most oral diseases and injuries can be treated successfully, especially if identified early.

Dental Cavities

Facts: Called the "most common health condition" in people with permanent teeth, dental cavities – also known as caries – afflict 2.83 billion adults and children globally, according to an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Dental cavities typically form when this two-step process happens, leading to decay:

  1. Plaque builds up on teeth.
  2. Bacteria in the plaque combine with sugar to produce enamel-destroying acid.

Treatment: If you or your dental professional catch a cavity early enough, you might be able to reverse the decay with fluoride treatments. Otherwise, fillings are the typical treatment for cavities.

However, if your tooth decay becomes so bad that a filling won't help, your dentist might cover your tooth with a dental crown or remove the tooth. And if the decay goes into your tooth's pulp, a root canal might be in order. Again, early detection can prevent tooth decay from getting so bad.

Gum Disease

Facts: Several forms of gum disease – also called periodontal disease – affect nearly half of adults age 30 and over, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Severity ranges from mildly swollen gums to bleeding gums to complete tooth loss.

Most gum diseases develop in these stages:

1. Plaque and tartar build-up on your teeth, resulting in gingivitis.

2. Gingivitis irritates the soft tissues along the gumline, which gradually worsens as the bacteria increase, resulting in periodontitis.

3. Periodontitis occurs when the gums pull away from the teeth forming pockets. This can lead to further gum infection requiring antibiotic treatment, surgery, or tooth extraction.

Treatment: Like cavities, gum disease in the gingivitis stage can be reversed if caught early. If it can't be reversed, your dental professional might schedule root planing and scaling, a professional deep-cleaning treatment to remove all plaque from your mouth. As noted, you might also be prescribed antibiotics. For advanced periodontitis, you might need surgery.

Infectious Diseases

Facts: The most well-known infectious oral diseases are oral herpes, which you might call cold sores or fever blisters. Clinically known as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the oral herpes virus frequently shows up in kids age 6 months to 5 years of age.

Once HSV-1 is in children's systems, they'll carry the virus throughout their lives. It's estimated that 50-80 percent of adults live with oral herpes – in a dormant or an active stage – reports Johns Hopkins Medicine. If adults didn't get the virus as kids, formerly HSV-1-free adults might contract oral herpes through direct contact with children or adults experiencing an outbreak. Just watch where you plant your kisses.

People who are HIV-positive are more susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. These infections often cause lesions to develop on the lips, under the tongue, and in the soft tissues inside your cheeks. The lesions can be discomforting or painful, and they can cause dry mouth and swallowing difficulties.

Treatment: After your first bout with oral herpes, your body will build antibodies to combat the virus and its effects. So, your subsequent HSV-1 outbreaks might not be as severe, or the virus will remain dormant.

However, if you experience the early stages of an oral herpes outbreak, taking antiviral medication can prevent cold sores from fully developing. You can minimize flareups by keeping emotionally and physically healthy.

For HIV-related infections, treatment varies depending on the specific condition.

Oral Cancers

Facts: In the U.S., nearly 53,000 people are diagnosed with cancers of the mouth or throat each year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral cancer most commonly affects the tongue, tonsils, gums, and oropharynx (section of the throat at the back of your mouth).

Because the various oral cancers often don't produce clear signs and symptoms in their early stages, regular dental checkups are the most important method of detecting them. Your dental professional can also screen you for oral cancer at your checkup, especially if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A mouth or lip sore that won't heal
  • A lump in your mouth
  • A red or white patch in your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Painful swallowing, persistent mouth pain, or ear pain

You're more likely to receive an oral cancer diagnosis if you use tobacco products.

Treatment: Depending on the type of oral cancer and the cancer's stage when diagnosed, treatment can involve a mix of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Mouth Injury Trauma

Facts: WHO reports that approximately 20 percent of people experience trauma to their teeth during their lives. Mouth injury trauma can occur due to unsafe conditions, risk-taking behavior, accidents, and violence.

Sports injuries account for many cases of mouth trauma. Preventive measures, such as wearing a mouthguard and a helmet, can decrease the likelihood of suffering a mouth injury in sports.

Treatment: In the event of an unexpected injury, get medical care as early as possible. A tooth that's been knocked out can be replaced if you act quickly.

Some injuries require treatment that encompasses multiple surgeries and can be costly. Some might be traumatic to the point of causing complications for your entire face or to your psychological well-being.

Oral care doesn't just keep your teeth strong – it's also about keeping your mouth free of disease. Some oral diseases are preventable by practicing good daily oral hygiene, scheduling regular dental screenings, and avoiding certain behaviors.

Other oral diseases can result from tobacco use, unhealthy diets (especially those high in sugar), violence, and other lifestyles that cause harm. Paying attention to your oral care and knowing what can result from inadequate oral care can positively affect your general wellness.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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