Common Oral Diseases and Infections

Woman Covering Mouth with Hand

Your teeth, gums, and tongue are susceptible to certain diseases and infections, some of which are entirely preventable (and sometimes reversible) with proper oral hygiene habits or dental intervention. Others are unavoidable and result from short-term viruses. Knowing the signs and symptoms of the most common oral ailments can help you determine what, if any, action you need to take to get your oral health back to optimal.


Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums caused by the buildup of harmful bacteria and debris, known as plaque, which forms on and around your teeth. It marks the first stage of gum disease but is reversible if treated early. Some people might experience soreness of the gums, but gingivitis can be completely painless. Physical indicators include bleeding during brushing or flossing or reddening and swelling of the gums.

You are likely to avoid gingivitis if you brush at least twice per day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily to remove plaque between the teeth, and rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. Regular cleanings and checkups also are necessary preventative measures for gingivitis. Wearing braces increases your risk of gingivitis, so it is essential to follow your orthodontist’s instructions to care for your teeth.

If you experience symptoms, it is a sign that you are neglecting one or more healthy dental habits. Once you begin exercising proper oral hygiene, you should see a reversal of symptoms within about two weeks. Rinsing with saltwater also can reduce swelling.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is the irreversible process that begins after unsuccessful treatment of gingivitis. According to the American Dental Association, more than 47 percent of adults older than 30 in the United States suffer from chronic periodontitis.

Periodontitis occurs when infection in the gums spreads to the fibers and bones supporting the teeth. The gums detach as they become more inflamed, creating small gaps or pockets. The affected areas will often redden, and you might notice an odor. This process occurs in stages, with inflammation and reddening increasing, pockets deepening, and odor intensifying as the problem becomes more severe. The bone supporting the teeth will begin to dissolve, and the teeth will loosen, eventually falling out.

Bacteria can seep into your bloodstream in acute cases, causing a potentially life-threatening infection. Advanced periodontitis is linked to a host of severe medical conditions, including heart disease, dementia, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory diseases.

Peridontitis can be managed but not cured. Your dentist can use scaling and root planing to clean the pockets the infection created. Topical or oral antibiotics may be needed to control the infection. Severe periodontitis requires surgical interventions, including a flap procedure, soft-tissue grafts, or guided tissue regeneration.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay, or cavities, occurs when plaque erodes the tooth and creates a slight depression or hole that will grow over time if untreated. Relatively shallow cavities can be repaired by drilling past the decay and filling the area to prevent further damage. Untreated cavities that have grown or deepened significantly can require more extensive dental work, such as root canals or tooth extractions.

Orthodontic patients are at higher risks during their time in braces. Your braces make you more prone to plaque and tartar accumulation, which causes tooth decay. If you want to be in braces for the shortest possible time, always follow the hygiene instructions your orthodontist gives you.

Oral Herpes

Oral herpes is a common infection of the mouth area caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Type 1 herpes infects most people by the time they reach adulthood.

Once infected, a person will have the herpes simplex virus for the rest of his life. When inactive, the virus lies dormant in a group of nerve cells. While some people never develop symptoms, others will have periodic outbreaks of infections. These are often called cold sores–small blisters that form on the lips and in and around the mouth. The condition typically resolves without treatment in one or two weeks.


Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast. Thrush appears as raised white lesions inside the mouth and cheeks, tongue, and throat. These can resemble patches of cottage cheese. Other symptoms can include redness and irritation, loss of taste sensation, and a cotton-like feeling in the mouth.

Small children, older adults, and immunocompromised people are most at risk for developing thrush. Certain medications (e.g., corticosteroids, antibiotics, and birth control pills) and some medical treatments also can trigger thrush. In most cases, antifungal medication will clear a thrush infection within about two weeks. You can minimize your risk of thrush by following good oral hygiene practices and limiting the amount of sugar and yeast-containing foods you eat.

Canker Sores

A canker sore is a small, shallow, open wound that develops inside the lining of the mouth. There are three types of canker sores: minor, major, and herpetiform. Minor canker sores are tiny (about 1 millimeter in diameter) and typically heal without scarring in about one week. Major canker sores are less common and are more likely to affect people who frequently develop minor canker sores. These ulcers are more prominent and can last more than two weeks, sometimes healing with scarring. Herpetiform canker sores are rare and usually develop later in life. They show up as clusters of pin-point-size sores and typically disappear in about a week.

The exact cause of most canker sores is unknown. Mouth injuries, highly acidic food, anti-inflammatory medication, and irritation from braces might trigger the sores.

Herpangina & Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

The coxsackievirus causes both herpangina and hand-foot-and-mouth disease. This viral infection produces a sore throat and fever and painful blisters in the mouth and throat (hand, foot, mouth disease also can cause blisters elsewhere). Other symptoms can include fever, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing. Children are most likely to contract the coxsackievirus, and there is no specific treatment. Frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with people infected with hand-foot-and-mouth disease may help reduce your child’s risk of infection. Symptoms often disappear within about three to five days.

Orthodontic treatment can help reduce the risk of developing certain oral diseases and infections. Are you interested in starting orthodontic treatment? Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consult with one of our board-certified orthodontists.


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