From sensitive teeth to jaw pain and sore gums, pains in the mouth can come from numerous sources and can require a dentists attention.

Oral pain comes in all shapes and forms, and it can be hard to know what symptoms mean. For instance, do your teeth hurt whenever you eat or drink something sweet? How about something hot or cold? Or do you have a sore in your mouth that won’t go away?

These are some of the most common types of mouth pain and all are signs it’s time to see a dentist.

Sensitive teeth.

There are many things that can cause sensitive teeth: cavities, old fillings, gum disease, worn tooth enamel, exposed tooth rootsall can cause sensitivity. Your tooth’s middle layer (dentin) is covered by enamel and contains small hollow tubules (pores). Over time, the enamel can break down, causing the nerves and cells inside the tooth to be exposed to hot, cold, acidic, sweet and sticky foods.

Treatment for sensitive teeth depends on what’s causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest a desensitizing toothpaste to help block the tubules. In some cases, your dentist may recommend a gum graft to cover exposed roots.

Old fillings

wear down over time. Mouth pain may be a sign that old or worn fillings need to be replaced. Cavities can also cause pain and sensitivity in your mouth. A small hole in your tooth, a cavity that is left untreated can grow and destroy your tooth’s tissues, leading to infection. In some instances, a root canal may be necessary to stop the severe and persistent pain.

Brushing, flossing, eating a healthy diet and regular dental visits are still the best ways to keep your mouth healthy.

Sore gums

are another common culprit of mouth pain. Your gums can be sore for many reasons, including something as simple as the result of brushing too hard or starting a new flossing routine. This usually goes away on its own in about a week. If your gums bleed regularly or enough to worry you, make an appointment with your dentist or physician. It could be a sign that something else is wrong.

Have a mouth sore that won’t go away or feels irritated or infected? When a canker sore or cold sore lasts more than a week, or if it is very uncomfortable, it’s time to get it checked out. These sores could be your mouth’s way of signaling that something needs to be addressed. They can also be the symptom of a disease or disorder; infection from bacteria, viruses or fungus; or result from irritation caused by braces, partials or dentures, or a broken tooth or filling. Many adults suffer from chronic jaw and facialĀ pain:pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, pain when biting and headaches. Possible causes include teeth grinding, toothache, gingivitis or problems with your temporomandibular joints. The TMJ are the joints that make it possible for you to chew, speak and swallow. They also control the lower jaw as it moves forward, backward and side to side. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder. Depending on the diagnosis, the dentist may refer you to a physician or another dentist. One solution is to use a night guard or mouth guard when you sleep.

Remember:

With dentistry’s many advances, diagnosis and treatment are more sophisticated and comfortable than ever. Visiting your dentist regularly is important because some diseases or medical conditions have symptoms that can first appear in the mouth. Brushing, flossing, eating a healthy diet and regular dental visits are still the best ways to keep your mouth healthy.

For more information about taking care of your mouth and teeth, visit MouthHealthy.org, the American Dental Association’s website just for patients.

Tips for a healthy mouth

Many people believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong,but regular dental visits can contribute to a lifetime of good oral health. If you are experiencing any kind of dental pain, don’t put off seeing a dentist.

Use these tips from the American Dental Association:

Brush.

Brush your teeth two times a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. This will keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh and remove plaque, a sticky film that can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.

Floss.

Daily flossing is essential to helping remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.

Eat a healthy diet.

The foods we eat are just as important for keeping our teeth healthy as they are for keeping our bodies healthy. If you need a snack, choose foods like fruit, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt or raw vegetables. If you are thirsty, have a glass of water or low-fat milk.

Regular dental visits help your dentist spot problems early. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove tartar, which traps plaque bacteria along the gum line. Tell your dentist about changes in your overall health, particularly any recent illnesses or chronic conditions. Provide an updated health history, including medication use both prescription and over-the-counter products. If you use tobacco, talk to your dentist about options for quitting.

Dr. Jonathan B. Knapp, is a general dentist practicing in Bethel, Conn., and serves on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach, which mobilizes and facilitates the delivery of charitable dental care to under-served patients. Knapp is the past chair of the American Dental Association Council on Dental Practice.