Oral bacteria can cause viruses, tooth decay, gum disease and other common mouth infections in both children and adults. Some of these infections are preventable with good oral hygiene, and many only last a few days – especially those that are common in childhood. Other dental conditions, however, are more advanced and can stick around much longer.
Eight Common Oral Infections
1. Dental Caries
Dental caries is the primary result of tooth decay, and one of the most common oral infections out there. Known as the leading cause of tooth loss in children under 12, according to Dr. Neal R. Chamberlain at A.T. Still University, and is caused by the bacteria, "Streptococcus mutans."
A variety of bacteria cause gingivitis – the medical term for early gum disease – and when they settle in the gum's crevices (at the gumline and below it), these bacteria produce toxins. The gums react to these toxins with inflammation and swelling, which is why your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth. Between 50 and 90 percent of adults have gingivitis, which, if left untreated, leads to peridontal disease. The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) states that when certain bacteria are breathed into the lungs, they can cause pneumonia.
3. Periodontal Disease
Gingivitis that spreads below the gumline and affect the bone and supporting tissues which can cause periodontal disease to occur. Pockets form around the teeth, giving way to inflammation and bone loss, at which point these teeth can loosen due to this bone destruction. Eight to 10 percent of adults have periodontal disease, and it is the most common cause of tooth loss. It can also make a chronic lung condition worse, even if it's already present.
4. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Toddlers and school-aged children are most likely to develop hand, foot and mouth disease, explains the University of Chicago, and the virus "Coxsackie A16" is usually responsible. After one to two days of sore throat and fever, slightly painful blisters can appear inside the cheeks and the tongue, as well as on the palms, soles and buttocks. Fortunately, the infection often disappears within three days.
A disease related to hand, foot and mouth disease, herpangina most frequently infects children aged three to 10 during the summer and fall. Fever, sore throat and difficulty swallowing are the first symptoms to appear, followed by tiny blisters at the back of the mouth – which form large ulcers when they rupture. A herpangina infection usually lasts three to five days.
An overgrowth of the naturally occurring "Candida albicans" fungus causes thrush, and medical treatments such as antibiotics, chemotherapy and radiation can trigger an outbreak. White, curd-like plaques appear on the tongue, inner cheeks, palate and back of the mouth. Thrush is the most common infection in people with HIV.
7. Canker Sores
Canker sores are lesions that form on the gums and other mouth tissues. Dentists call them apthous ulcers. Most common in children and adolescents, a canker sore's cause isn't quite clear, but stress, hormones, immune problems, food hypersensitivities and related infections are all possible triggers. Usually, the sores heal in 10 to 14 days.
8. Oral Herpes
Oral herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, and between 50 and 80 percent of adults in the U.S. carry the disease, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. The first infection can cause flu-like symptoms, blisters and ulcers on the gums and tongue, or there may be no symptoms at all. Once infected, the virus has a permanent presence in the body, but the infection itself can stay dormant with proper care. Recurring outbreaks are usually milder and last from a week to 10 days. Fluid-filled blisters appear around the mouth and, after a day or two, rupture and form scabs that cause no further discomfort.
Kids aged one to three who carry the simplex virus sometimes develop a condition called herpes gingivostomatitis, wherein the gums swell and reveal small blisters of their own. The child may run a fever, feel irritable and become tired more easily. A few days after symptoms appear on the gums, ulcers usually appear around the mouth. After these symptoms disappear, the virus stays in the body, but stress, trauma, sunlight and cold can cause it to flare up.
Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste such as Colgate TotalSF Advanced Deep Clean, and flossing once a day, both help to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and periodontal disease. With this routine in tow, your dentist or doctor can help treat other oral infections as needed.