If you develop an oral sore seemingly out of nowhere, your first reaction may be to totally ignore it - or to completely panic. Either way, there are some things you should know (and some symptoms to look for) before you make your next move. Before you brush it off as nothing, or go into panic mode, check out this guide to some common oral infections that may or may not warrant a trip to the dentist.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Illness
Hand, Foot and Mouth, also known as HFM, is easily confused with many other illnesses, including measles and chicken pox. In fact, some people may even confuse the name with a common equine illness, hoof and mouth illness. But HFM is not for horses - it’s for humans, usually little humans, around elementary age or younger.
HFM is caused by the virus Coxsackie A16. As the name suggests, HFM spots usually appear on the hands, feet, and around and inside the mouth. They are much smaller than chicken pox - usually smaller than a pencil eraser - but as they can vary by child, it’s always a good idea to be seen by a doctor or dentist to be safe. The good news is it's usually very brief, relatively painless and it’s not usually contagious to adults, even if they never had it as a child. HFM also has a low occurrence of scarring, and affected children can usually return to school or daycare once their bumps become "crusty" and hard.
Thrush is another common illness many people don’t know about until they have it. It is caused by overgrowth of the yeast "candida albicans." Thrush appears as a white, lumpy coating inside the mouth and on the tongue. Many things can cause thrush, from common asthma medications to chemotherapy. It is also common in breastfeeding babies and persons with the HIV virus.
You know when you come in for your oral exam and your dental hygienist measures your gum "pockets"? It may seem like your practitioner is just trying to torture you, but in reality, he or she is screening you for periodontal disease. Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, develops when gingivitis becomes so advanced it spreads below the gum line - and into those pockets that everyone hates to have measured.
But those measurements are important, because if those pockets become infected, they can cause everything from gum loss to tooth, tissue and even bone loss. This is why it’s so crucial that you floss your teeth at least once a day and brush your teeth at least twice a day, for a minimum of two minutes each time. This will help keep plaque and debris away from your gums and out of those pockets, helping to lower your risk of periodontal infection.
Unfortunately, cases of oral herpes are increasing around the world - as are cases of herpes-related oral cancers. Though it is estimated that up to 80 percent of the world’s population is a carrier of oral herpes, most people may never experience symptoms. But for those who do, they can be painful and embarrassing.
If you do develop a cold sore or herpes outbreak inside of the mouth, contact your doctor or dentist immediately, as there are prescription medications that can both help reduce the pain and severity of the outbreak, and help reduce the occurrence of future outbreaks. If you know you have oral herpes, let your doctor or dentist know so you can be closely monitored for signs of oral cancer in the future.
Sometimes when there’s a sore in your mouth, it’s "just" a canker sore - and we say "just" because, even though it may be painful, and you may keep biting it accidentally or burning it with your sriracha, it’s harmless.
Canker sores appear for many reasons, but they usually only stick around for up to two weeks. They are caused by many different things - from stress to hormones to other infections - but they pose no real harm to you and are not contagious.
If you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is just a canker sore or if its something more serious, please give Dr. Abelar’s office a call at 858-866-9692.
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