woman with mouth swelling looking in a mirror

Let’s Talk About Mouth Swelling

I’ve Had This Problem for A Year

Next to broken and missing teeth, mouth swelling ranks as a common reason for a dental visit.

I met a new patient who is a reader of this column yesterday and wanted my help. Her concern centered around an area of swelling on her gum. This report is not unusual, and these people require me to put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and become an oral sleuth.

There are Several Types of Mouth Swelling

Sometimes, swellings are only visible in the mouth, and others are obvious in the face, even extending down to the neck or up to the eye. We call those mouth swellings that have migrated outwards facial swellings, and they can potentially be serious and, in some cases, even life-threatening.

Those swelling that occur in the mouth proper and do not extend out to the face can be an earlier stage of the facial swelling or be self-limiting and stay just in the mouth.

Other swellings are examples of normal jaw anatomy and other types may be a growth of something more serious. The latter two types grow very slowly and typically don’t cause any pain. This is just another reason for a routine checkup, as another set of eyes can help sort out normal from abnormal.

Two Common Mouth Swelling Categories – Tooth or Gum Infection

Let us leave the exotic and uncommon to focus on the majority of patients who come to me for mouth swelling. Most often these involve an infection coming from mouth tissue. We can group the source of these infections into two categories.

Either they start with a tooth and move to the gum or the gums are the source of the infection.

Depending on where the issue starts will determine the treatment.

Antibiotics isn’t always a real fix.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about antibiotics. The question always arises as to why an antibiotic can not be the start and end of treatment of mouth infections. The short answer is typically, in the mouth, there may not be enough blood flow to the cause of the infection to knock it out totally. An antibiotic will take some time and potentially relieve the swelling, but it will not be a real fix.

Determining The Source of The Infection

A dentist must determine if the swelling is coming from a tooth through questions, touch, and x-rays, as well as other tests to give us a clue as to the source of the problem.

If a tooth is involved, a root canal procedure could be discussed.

If the tooth is very broken, then extraction and replacement come to the table.

On the other hand, if the gum area is the source of the infection, the problem area may indicate a more extensive gum issue, and we go down a different path.

Let’s return to our new patient and see what is occurring in her mouth. Due to dental anxiety, she put off this with multiple dental visits seeking antibiotics to act as a bandaid until she found someone who could help with her anxiety and make her visit comfortable.

I explained a few ways to help keep her calm, and we settled on one that sounded like the right fit for her. Once I treat the infection, we will turn to prevention and keep her teeth for life.

Get a Professional Opinion

If something just doesn’t feel right, or if you don’t feel right, call us at 440.951.7856, and let’s look at it together.

Many times, it is nothing or an easy fix. But just in case it isn’t, you should get a professional opinion. The decisions we make have one of the greatest impacts on our oral health. I look forward to meeting you.

Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD is an Ohio licensed general dentist and is on the staff of Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine.

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