The Most Common Dental Problems

Most common dental problems can be prevented. It takes brushing twice a day, flossing daily, eating a healthy diet, and regular dental check-ups.

Educating yourself about common dental problems and their causes can also go a long way in prevention.

This article looks at the nine most common dental problems plus how they're prevented and treated.

common dental problems
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, can be embarrassing. Studies say a dental condition is to blame in about 85% of people with persistent bad breath. They may include:

  • Gum disease
  • Cavities
  • Oral cancer
  • Dry mouth
  • Bacteria on the tongue

Mouthwash only masks the odor caused by these problems. If you have chronic bad breath, visit your dentist to see what's behind it.


Tooth Decay

Tooth decay—cavities—is the second most common health problem in the United States. It's topped only by the common cold.

Tooth decay occurs when plaque combines with sugars and/or starches of the food you eat. The combination produces acids that attack tooth enamel.

You can get cavities at any age. They aren't just for children. Aging and normal enamel erosion can cause them. So can dry mouth due to age, illness, or medications.

The best way to prevent tooth decay is by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and getting regular dental check-ups.

Also, eat healthy foods and avoid high-sugar snacks and drinks. Ask your dentist about more ways to keep your teeth healthy.


Gum (Periodontal) Disease

Gum disease is an infection in the gums around your teeth. It's also a major cause of adult tooth loss. Some studies show a link between gum disease and heart problems.

Everyone's at risk for gum disease. But it's most common after age 30. Smoking is a significant risk factor.

Diabetes and dry mouth also increase your risk. The symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen, tender, or bleeding gums
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Pain when chewing

Gingivitis is the technical name of gum disease. Periodontitis is advanced gum disease. Regular dental check-ups, brushing, and flossing can prevent them.

See your dentist if you have any signs of gum disease. Treatment can prevent problems such as tooth loss.


Bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease are common problems that can be avoided by brushing and flossing and regular dental exams.

Chronic bad breath may be caused by myriad mouth diseases. Tooth decay is caused by plaque's interaction with sugar or starch. Your gum disease risk goes up if you smoke.


Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a serious and deadly disease. It affects millions of people and is more common after age 40.

Someone in the United States dies of oral cancer every hour. But this disease is often curable if it's diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

The biggest risk factors are:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Alcohol use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

The symptoms of mouth or throat cancer include:

  • Sores
  • Lumps
  • Rough areas in the mouth
  • Change in your bite
  • Difficulty chewing or moving your tongue or jaw

Regular dental visits can help catch oral cancer early. Ask your dentist whether an oral cancer exam is part of their usual checkup.

See Your Dentist If You:

  • Notice any symptoms of oral cancer
  • Have problems chewing or swallowing
  • Have trouble moving your tongue or jaw

Mouth Sores

Several types of mouth sores can be bothersome. They're usually nothing to worry about unless they last more than two weeks.

Common mouth sores include:

  • Canker sores (aphthous ulcers): These occur inside the mouth and not on the lips. They aren't contagious and can be triggered by many different causes.
  • Fever blisters/cold sores: Caused by the Herpes simplex virus, they occur on the edge of the outer lips. They're contagious. They come and go but can't be cured.
  • Thrush (oral candidiasis): Yeast infection sores in the mouth can occur in infants, denture wearers, people with diabetes, and people treated for cancer.

Tooth Erosion

Tooth erosion is the loss of tooth structure. It's caused by acid attacking the enamel.

Symptoms can range from sensitivity to more severe problems such as cracking. Tooth erosion is common but easily preventable with proper oral care.


Oral cancer is a common and deadly disease. See your dentist right away if you have sores or difficulty moving your tongue or jaw.

Mouth sores may be cankers, cold sores, or oral thrush. If a sore doesn't clear up on its own in two weeks, see your dentist.

Excess acid in your mouth can cause tooth erosion. It can make your teeth sensitive or even crack them.


Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem. It affects millions of people. Sensitivity involves pain or discomfort from:

  • Sweets
  • Cold air
  • Hot drinks
  • Cold drinks
  • Ice cream

Sensitive teeth can make it painful to brush and floss. But sensitive teeth can be treated. So talk to your dentist about it.

Sensitivity can be a sign of a cracked or abscessed tooth. Those need to be treated by a dentist. Otherwise, you risk losing a tooth or getting an infection in your jaw bone.

If you suddenly develop tooth sensitivity, make a dentist appointment. They can see if you have a problem that needs to be treated.


Toothaches and Dental Emergencies

Dental emergencies can be painful and scary. They require urgent treatment just like any emergency.

Common problems that require an urgent trip to the dentist include:

Call your dentist right away about any of these issues. Even on weekends and evenings, they should have someone on call to handle emergencies.

Get Urgent Medical Attention For:

  • A broken or dislocated jaw
  • Severe cuts to your tongue, lips, or mouth
  • A tooth abscess that causes difficulty swallowing
  • Facial swelling

Unattractive Smile

An unattractive smile isn't technically a "dental problem." But it is a major reason some people go to the dentist.

Not liking your smile can be hard on your self-esteem. Luckily, with today's tools and techniques, it's often fixable.

Cosmetic changes may include:


Heat or cold sensitivity can cause discomfort. Your dentist can help with treatments.

Get immediate help for dental emergencies such as broken or abscessed teeth or accidentally losing a tooth.

If you just don't like your smile, talk to your dentist about possible cosmetic fixes.


Most common dental problems can be avoided if you:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day
  • Floss everyday
  • See your dentist regularly
  • Don't smoke
  • Get help for any problems you notice, such as mouth sores or rough spots

Make appointments with your dentist when problems arise. Be sure to let them know about any pain or sensitivity you're having. And get urgent help for dental emergencies.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Tammy Davenport
Tammy Davenport is a dental assistant with experience on the clinical and administrative side.