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Check Your Symptoms
It is not unusual to have a problem with your mouth from time to time. A mouth problem can involve your gums, lips, tongue, or inner cheeks, the roof of your mouth (soft and hard palates), under your tongue, your neck, or your teeth. Your mouth may be dry, or food may not taste right. You may have bad breath or a sore on your lip, gums, or tongue that makes it hard to eat or talk. Many of these problems can get better with home treatment.
Common mouth problems include:
Your tongue may become sore or swollen, or it may change color or texture. A buildup of food and bacteria on the tongue may make the tongue look thick or furry ("hairy tongue"). Often the problems will go away if the surface of the tongue is regularly brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush. If your tongue problem is from some local irritation, such as tobacco use, removing the source of the irritation may clear up the tongue problem. Rapid swelling of the tongue can be caused by an allergic reaction, which can interfere with breathing.
Bad breath (halitosis) or changed breath can be an embarrassing problem. Make sure that you brush your teeth twice each day and floss once a day to decrease the bacteria that can cause bad breath. Brushing your tongue can also help.
The use of alcohol and tobacco can cause many mouth problems. Your chances of having oral cancer are increased if you smoke, use smokeless (spit) tobacco, or use alcohol excessively.
Mouth problems may occur more commonly with other conditions and diseases, such as diabetes, Down syndrome, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Many medicines also can cause mouth problems.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
You can get dehydrated when you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause mouth problems. A few examples are:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Symptoms of a stroke may include:
Babies can quickly get dehydrated when they lose fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Symptoms of infection may include:
To do home treatment for a black or coated tongue:
Bismuth products, such as Pepto-Bismol, can turn your tongue black. The black color will go away after you stop taking the medicine.
Sudden drooling and trouble swallowing can be signs of a serious problem called epiglottitis. This problem can happen at any age.
The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the back of the throat that you can't see when you look in the mouth. When you swallow, it closes to keep food and fluids out of the tube (trachea) that leads to the lungs. If the epiglottis becomes inflamed or infected, it can swell and quickly block the airway. This makes it very hard to breathe.
The symptoms start suddenly. A person with epiglottitis is likely to seem very sick, have a fever, drool, and have trouble breathing, swallowing, and making sounds. In the case of a child, you may notice the child trying to sit up and lean forward with his or her jaw forward, because it's easier to breathe in this position.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may quickly become very severe.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Mouth problems are common and can be very annoying. But most mouth problems are minor and will clear up with home treatment and time. Simple home treatment measures, such as increasing your fluid intake to prevent dehydration and using a humidifier inside your home, can relieve many mouth problems. Try home treatment when you have one of the following mouth problems:
Changes in your diet can also help if you have a sore or ulcer inside your mouth, such as a canker sore.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Many mouth problems can be prevented. Try some of the following home prevention measures to prevent:
Tobacco can cause mouth problems. Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Avoid alcohol, which can cause a dry mouth and bad breath and can increase your risk of canker sores.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic
Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of: February 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: February 26, 2020
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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