Inside of your mouth

9 things the inside of your mouth can reveal about your overall health

  • You mouth can tell you more about your overall health than you think.
  • It can indicate if you have diabetes, are at risk for heart disease, and much more.
  • Let this be a reminder to take good care of your teeth, as well as the rest of your body.

As dreaded as a trip to the dentist may be, it’s a necessary evil for your health — and not just your oral health. It turns out, your dentists can tell a lot about your general health status just by looking at your mouth.

I definitely fall into this camp. I mean I know that brushing and flossing are good practices for taking care of my mouth, but what exactly does that have to do with the rest of my body?

Here are some of the things you can learn about your health just be looking your mouth.

That you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic

Dentist Dr. Gary Glassman told INSIDER that, “ulcers, infections, inflammation of your gums, thrush, bad breath, tooth decay,” can all point to diabetes

Since you see a dentist every six months — or should — it’s possible that your dentist may spot these symptoms before a general practitioner.

That you might be at greater risk for stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular disease

Periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease often go hand-in-hand.

“acteria from inflammation from the gums can enter the bloodstream and then it can travel to the arteries and the heart and cause hardening of the arteries — which is called atherosclerosis — and then once you have that, that can be an increased risk factor for heart attack or stroke,” Glassman said. “Not only that, but the inner lining of the heart can also become infected and inflamed as well.”

Inflammation is a common cause of chronic disease, even if not all of that inflammation came from the gums. Taking care of them, however, is one small way you can work to keep your heart healthier.

That you’re pregnant

Glassman said that the vomit from morning sickness can erode the teeth a bit, while the surge of hormones can make your teeth feel loose in your mouth.

Morning sickness can take a toll on your teeth. Suhyeon Choi / unsplash

If that wasn’t enough, Glassman said it can be quite painful to brush your teeth due to gum sensitivity. Using a softer bristled brush than usual and taking a bit more care can help make brushing an easier proposition.

If you’re suffering from morning sickness, Glassman said you should make sure you rinse your mouth out before worse.

That you have sleep apnea

Haddad told INSIDER that worn down teeth are an indicator of sleep apnea. “A lot of people actually clench and grind to open up their airways, so that’s kind of self-defense mechanism,” he explained. “The first thing I ask people when I see very worn down teeth is if they have a headache issue or even a history of migraines.”

Haddad also noted that the tongue can also point to issues. “Sometimes ridges on the sides of the tongue — it’s called ‘scalloping’ — is an 80 percent predictor of a sleep apnea problem.”

That you have HPV

Baker said that lesions in your mouth can be one of the earliest signs that you might have HPV.

“Looking at the lips, looking at the salivary gland area, there’s a lot of things you can see and detect and that comes down to, of course, making sure that you see your dentist every six months,” Glassman added.

If you have kids, you might want to consider the HPV vaccine, which Glassman recommended for all kids, as a preventative measure. Preventing cancer is likely preferable to simply treating it after a diagnosis.

That you have dietary issues

A sudden increase in cavities or tooth erosion can point to malnutrition or an eating disorder. Dr. Jason Goodchild, Premier Dental’s Director of Clinical Affairs, told INSIDER by email that eating poorly — whether it’s a lack of essential nutrients or a lack of calories — can lead to more cavities (or dental caries).

Various nutritional issues can cause problems in your mouth. Dominik Martin / unsplash

Additionally, vomiting associated with conditions like bulimia can cause stomach acid to eat away at your teeth. Dentists are a valuable first line of defense when it comes to delicate, but serious conditions such as these.

That you have an autoimmune disease

Autoimmune diseases can be exceptionally difficult to diagnose. Lupus, Crohn’s, celiac, and others all can look like many other things, which complicates the matter. According to Goodchild, these conditions can sometimes manifest as “oral mucosal lesions in the mouth,” which means that your dentist might be the first one to notice and set you on the path to managing your condition.

That you might have kidney problems

Like cardiovascular disease, there are some links between periodontal disease and kidney issues. Glassman said the inflammation that affects your gums can severely affect your kidneys and other parts of your body because bacteria can get into your bloodstream and move to other parts of your body, wreaking havoc on your organ systems.

Although it’s possible to have kidney problems entirely unrelated to inflammation in your mouth, inflamed gums might put you at a greater risk of kidney problems. One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from more serious chronic conditions is to take good care of your mouth by brushing, flossing, and regularly seeing your dentist.

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Gum, also called gingiva, plural gingivae, in anatomy, connective tissue covered with mucous membrane, attached to and surrounding the necks of the teeth and adjacent alveolar bone. Before the erupting teeth enter the mouth cavity, gum pads develop; these are slight elevations of the overlying oral mucous membrane. When tooth eruption is complete, the gum embraces the neck region of each tooth. As well as being attached to adjacent alveolar bone, gum is connected to the cement of each tooth and to the tooth enamel.

Read More on This Topic human digestive system: The gums The gums consist of mucous membranes connected by thick fibrous tissue to the membrane surrounding the bones of the jaw. The gum membrane…

Healthy gums are pink, stippled, and tough and have a limited sensibility to pain, temperature, and pressure. The gums are separated from the alveolar mucosa, which is red, by a scalloped line that approximately follows the contours of the teeth. The edges of the gums around the teeth are free and extend as small wedges into the spaces between the teeth (interdental papillae). Internally, fibres of the periodontal membrane enter the gum and hold it tightly against the teeth. Changes in colour, loss of stippling, or abnormal sensitivity are early signs of gum inflammation, or gingivitis (q.v.).

Dental Health Foundation

Structure of Teeth

The tooth has two anatomical parts; the crown and the root. The crown is the part of the tooth that is normally visible in the mouth (above the gum line). The shape of the crown determines the function of the tooth. The root of a tooth is the part embedded in the jaw. It anchors the tooth in its bony socket and is normally not visible (below the gum line). The gum line is where the tooth and gums meet. The anatomy of teeth and the mouth structures which surround and support them are described below.

Structures of the tooth

Enamel The hard outer layer of the crown. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body yet it can decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

Dentine Not as hard as enamel, forms the bulk of the tooth and can be sensitive if the protection of the enamel is lost.

Pulp Soft tissue containing the blood and nerve supply of the tooth. The pulp extends from the crown to the tip of the root where it connects to the nerves and blood supply of the mouth. The pulp enables sensations of tooth sensitivity or pain.

Cementum The layer of bone-like tissue covering the root. It is not as hard as enamel.

Structures around the tooth

Periodontal ligament: The periodontal ligament is responsible for attaching the tooth to the jaw bone. It is made up of thousands of fibres which fasten the cementum to the bony socket. These fibres anchor the tooth to the jaw bone and act as shock absorbers for the tooth, which is subjected to heavy forces during chewing.

Gingivae (gums): Soft tissue that immediately surrounds the teeth and bone. It protects the bone and the roots of the teeth and provides an easily lubricated surface.

Bone: Provides a socket to surround and support the roots of the teeth.

Nerves and blood supply: Each tooth and periodontal ligament has a nerve supply and the teeth are sensitive to a wide variety of stimuli. The blood supply is necessary to maintain the vitality of the tooth.

Parts of the Mouth and Their Functions

The mouth, or oral cavity, is made up of numerous components that work together so that you can breathe, speak, eat and digest food. When you understand these parts of the mouth and how they affect your general health, the significance of oral care takes on a whole new meaning. Here’s what these things do for you.

Lips and Cheeks

Your lips and cheeks are made up of muscles that not only give you the ability to pucker up for a kiss, but also help shape your facial expressions – both happy and sad. Lips let air into your mouth for breathing and, together with cheeks, help you speak. They also keep food and saliva in your mouth while chewing. Ultimately, these strong muscles guide and keep your teeth in their proper positions.


The tongue is a powerful muscle that facilitates chewing, swallowing, speaking and tasting food. With the use of taste buds – sensory receptors located on your tongue, according to InnerBody – you can enjoy the food you eat. You have about 10,000 taste buds on your tongue and other areas of your mouth, allowing you to detect sweet, salty, bitter and savory flavors.

Teeth, Gums and Alveolar Bone

Your teeth have a hard enamel crown along with roots that anchor them in your jaw bone. The alveolar bone surrounds the roots to stabilize the teeth in your mouth, while gum tissue also holds the teeth in place and protects the roots from decay. The main function of your teeth is to tear and chew food so it can properly undergo digestion, but teeth also give your face its shape and help you pronounce certain sounds (and aesthetically, they make for beautiful smiles).

Salivary Glands

You have six salivary glands that produce the clear liquid known as saliva. Made up of mostly water, saliva also contains substances that break down food to begin the digestive process. In addition, saliva moistens your mouth so that you can easily speak, chew and swallow. It also repeatedly washes bacteria from your teeth and gums to help prevent cavities and gum disease. The minerals and proteins found in saliva play a vital role in protecting the enamel of your teeth from tooth decay, and your body produces about two to four pints of saliva a day, according to Healthline.

Temporomandibular Joint

Your ability to open and close your mouth, move your lower jaw forward and side to side, as well as chew, speak and swallow is all thanks to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). These two joints, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), are located on both sides of your head and work together with your jaw bone, facial muscles and ligaments. Any disruption in the synchronization of this pair – like arthritis or grinding your teeth – can result in facial pain, difficulty in chewing and other hindrances to normal jaw movement.

Keeping Your Oral Cavity Healthy

An oral hygiene routine that keeps all parts of the mouth healthy consists in brushing your teeth twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth with dental floss. To keep those taste buds sharp, brush your tongue regularly as well. Rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash, like Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™, can also reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth at any one time and fight bad breath germs. Just as important, avoiding tobacco products and limiting sugars and carbohydrates that lead to decay benefits your health well beyond the areas described above.

It’s important to schedule regular dental appointments and professional cleanings, which remove the tartar and plaque your toothbrush can’t reach. Take comfort in knowing that your dentist will also do an oral cancer screening and check every area of your mouth for signs of disease.

Although pretty teeth are important, a healthy mouth is much more than that. Keeping all the parts of your mouth in good working order won’t just ensure good dental health, but a healthy body too.

Beyond Teeth: What’s Inside Your Mouth

Your mouth is made up of more than just teeth, so good oral health goes beyond simply brushing and flossing. In addition to your teeth, your mouth is made up of gums, oral mucosa, the upper and lower jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the uvula, and the frenulum. All of these structures play an important role when it comes to good dental health and are routinely examined when you receive dental care.

The Oral Mucosa

When you open your mouth and look in the mirror, everything that isn’t a tooth is covered by a protective lining called the oral mucosa, which is a mucous membrane similar to the mucous membranes that line your nostrils and inner ears.

The oral mucosa plays an essential role in maintaining your oral health, as well as your overall health, by defending your body from germs and other irritants that enter your mouth. A tough substance called keratin, also found in your fingernails and hair, helps make the oral mucosa resistant to injury.

The Gums

Your gums are the pinkish tissue that surrounds and supports your teeth. Also covered by oral mucosa, gums play a critical role in your oral health. Healthy gums are firm, cover the entire root of the tooth, and do not bleed when brushed, poked, or prodded. Gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss, so taking care of your gums by flossing daily is just as essential to dental care as brushing your teeth.

The Upper and Lower Jaw

Your jaws give your face its shape and your mouth the structure it needs for chewing and speech. Human jaws are made up of several bones: The upper jaw contains two bones that are fused to each other and to the rest of your skull, while the lower jawbone is separate from the rest of the skull, enabling it to move up and down when you speak and chew.

The Tongue

The tongue is a powerful muscle covered in specialized mucosal tissue that includes your taste buds. The tongue is not just important to your oral health — it’s also considered an integral part of the body’s digestive system — it’s responsible for moving food to your teeth, and when chewed food is ready to be swallowed, the tongue moves it to the back of the throat so it can proceed into the esophagus. In babies, the tongue and the jaw work together to enable the infant to breastfeed.Additionally, the tongue plays an essential role in the ability to speak by shaping the sounds that come out of your mouth.

The Salivary Glands

You have three sets of salivary glands in your mouth and neck: the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands. These glands produce saliva, which contains special enzymes that help break down food, making it easier for you to swallow. Saliva is critical to good oral health, because it protects your teeth and gums by rinsing away food particles and bacteria and by helping to counteract acidic foods that can wear down the protective enamel on your teeth.

The Uvula

The uvula is the small flap of tissue which hangs down at the back of your throat. The uvula is composed of muscle fibers as well as connective and glandular tissues. Like other soft tissue structures in the mouth, the uvula is covered by oral mucosa. The uvula has long been a source of curiosity for scientists as all of its functions are not yet fully understood. However, it seems to play some role in speech and in keeping the mouth and throat moist.

The Frenulum Linguae

The frenulum is a flap of oral mucosa that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. This tissue allows the tongue to move about as it does its job. If an infant is born with a frenulum that is too short, or not elastic enough, he or she can have trouble breastfeeding. A short frenulum can also affect speech.

The next time you’re brushing your teeth, spend a minute looking at the parts of the mouth that lie farther inside the oral cavity. Knowing what these structures do and what they look like can help you to maintain optimal oral health.

The Anatomy of the mouth

Your mouth contains many different parts that work together to help you eat and speak. Your teeth are made of many layers and are very important to your mouth, while the gums anchor your teeth to your jaw and must be taken care of just as much as your teeth. Your tongue is made of many different muscles that work very hard to help you chew, swallow, and talk. The floor of the mouth is home to many ducts for salivary glands, which produce saliva that helps you chew and digest food. Lips and cheeks are also very important parts of the mouth, and you should take extra care to keep them healthy.

All About Teeth

Although you can’t see it, each of your teeth is made up of several different layers. The part that you can see is called the crown. The crown is covered in enamel, a hard substance that protects the inside of the tooth. Beneath the enamel is a layer of dentin, another tough substance that protects the most sensitive part of the tooth, known as the pulp. The pulp is where the blood supply and nerve endings of the tooth are found. This is why your teeth might hurt if you eat something too hot or too cold. The root of the tooth is called cementum, and it is connected to the jawbone.

You have four different kinds of teeth in your mouth, each with a different shape and purpose. Incisors are your front teeth, and they’re surrounding by slightly pointed canines. The teeth towards the middle and back of your mouth are called premolars and molars.

Your Gums

Healthy gums should be firm and pink. You can easily avoid gum disease by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once every day. Always used a soft-bristled brush and choose toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride helps protect your teeth against cavities. You should also replace your toothbrush every three to four months; old toothbrushes can easily damage gums.

The Tongue

Your tongue is important because you need it to talk, eat, and taste. The tongue is attached to the floor of the mouth by a piece of tissue called the frenulum. The top of your tongue is covered in bumps called papillae. These bumps contain taste buds. Although babies are born with up to 10,000 taste buds, some die as we grow and age. Taste buds are covered in tiny hairs called microvilli, which send a message to the brain about how something tastes. Taste buds identify salty, sweet, bitter, and sour flavors. In order to practice good dental hygiene, it’s important to brush your tongue as well as your teeth.


Many people don’t realize the importance of brushing the insides of your cheeks! The mouth is home to over 3,000 species of bacteria, which can grow at a very rapid rate. To keep your mouth in top-top shape, gently brush the insides of your cheeks each time you brush your teeth.


Your lips are covered with a thin, transparent layer of skin called stratum corneum. This skin can easily become dry and damaged due to cold weather and wind (the cause of chapped lips) or sun damage. That’s right-your lips can get sun damage! It’s important to use a lip balm with SPF 15 or more to prevent them from getting burned. Licking your lips can also cause them to become chapped, because saliva causes the thin skin of your lips to dry out. If you begin to have dry or flaky lips, you can use a mild lip scrub to remove the dead skin cells from your lips.

Floor of the Mouth

The floor of the mouth includes a few important parts: the lingual frenum, sublingual caruncles, and the sublingual folds. The lingual frenum is the line of tissue that divides the two sides of the floor of the mouth. Two sublingual caruncles are found on each side. They each contain an opening for a salivary duct, where saliva is produced. The sublingual folds run towards the base of the tongue and contain many more ducts from salivary glands.

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Anatomy of a Mouth

The mouth (oral cavity) consists of several components, including the teeth, gingiva (gums), tongue, palate, cheeks, lips and floor of the mouth. With the exception of the teeth, the mouth is lined by mucous membranes.

The Teeth

The teeth are held within the jaw bones and serve several important functions beyond allowing you to chew.

Your teeth enable you to speak properly and clearly, and contribute to your facial shape and appearance. Children usually have 20 deciduous (primary) teeth and begin to develop their first permanent teeth by age six. Adults typically develop 32 permanent teeth.

The area of the tooth closest to the tongue is referred to as the lingual surface. For the front teeth, the area closest to the lips is called the labial surface. For the back teeth (molars and premolars), the area that faces the cheeks is called the buccal surface, and the biting (chewing) area is called the occlusal surface.

There are different types of permanent teeth, each of which performs a specific function.

Central Incisors: The central incisors are the front teeth. Adults have four central incisors; two on the upper and two on the lower arches. These teeth are sharp and shaped like a chisel for cutting food.

Lateral Incisors: The four lateral incisors are located next to the central incisors on both arches, one on either side. These teeth have sharp incisal edges intended for tearing food.

Canines: The canine teeth are the sharp teeth located on either side of the lateral incisors. Canine teeth (also known as cuspids) work together with the incisors to tear and bite food.

Premolars: The premolars (also known as bicuspids) are the eight teeth located next to the cuspids; two on each side of the mouth, four on the upper and four on the lower arches. These teeth are smaller than the molars and have two cusps on the biting area for tearing and crushing food. The premolars closest to the incisors are called the first premolars, while the ones closest to the molars are called the second premolars.

Molars: Molars are the large teeth with four cusps located in the back of the mouth behind the premolars. Adults have twelve molars (four being wisdom teeth), with six in the upper and six in the lower arches; three on each side of the mouth. Molars have wide, flat surfaces for biting, chewing and grinding food.

Wisdom Teeth: Wisdom teeth, which are included among the molars, are the final four molars that most adults develop. These teeth are located in the very back of the mouth, two in the upper and two in the lower arches. Wisdom teeth typically erupt during the teen years but can develop at any time. It also is not unusual for wisdom teeth to be impacted (below the gumline) and not erupt at all. Not all wisdom teeth require extraction. However, due to the risk of overcrowding, infection or misalignment, your dentist may determine that your wisdom teeth should be removed.

The Gingiva

The gingiva is the soft tissue in the mouth known as the gums that covers the bone holding the teeth in place. The gingiva surrounds the teeth and covers the jaw bone, creating a protective barrier.

The Tongue

The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth with several functions. It is attached to the bottom of the mouth by a membrane on its underside called the lingual frenum. The top surface of the tongue contains papillae, the tiny nodules or bumps that include the taste buds.

One of the functions of the tongue is taste, but it also facilitates chewing, digesting, swallowing and speaking. The tongue is very flexible. With the help of the cheeks, it guides food to be chewed by the teeth so it can be properly swallowed and digested. The tongue also works with the teeth to form certain speech patterns, making speech possible.

The Palate

The palate, which refers to the roof of the mouth, is divided into two parts: the hard palate and the soft palate.

The hard palate is the solid, immovable area of the roof of the mouth that attaches to the teeth and gums, forming an arch. The soft palate, located behind the hard palate towards the back of the throat, is the flexible area of the mouth where the gag reflex occurs.

The Cheeks

The cheeks form the sides of the mouth and continue along the front of the face to the lips. The cheeks are composed of subcutaneous fat, with the outside layer covered by skin and the inside consisting of a mucous membrane. The cheek muscles (the buccinators) are instrumental in smiling, swallowing, compression and keeping food in the mouth for chewing and digestion.

The Lips

The lips are the soft and pliable fleshy tissue that connects to the front area of the cheeks. The outside of the lips is covered by skin. The gingiva attaches to the part of the lips inside the mouth that is covered by the mucous membrane. Blood vessels close to the surface of the skin give lips their red color.

Of all the organs in the human body, the lips are among the most mobile. In addition to facilitating speech, the lips help keep food between the teeth while also guiding it through the mouth. Lips also enable suckling during infancy. The lips are very sensitive and have numerous receptors on their surface to help determine temperature and texture of food.

The Floor of the Mouth

The floor of the mouth consists largely of the tongue. It is formed by mucous membranes that extend inward from both sides of the lower jawbone and from the tongue to the gumline, forming a crescent shape. Within the floor of the mouth are glands, portions of the muscles of the tongue and nerves.

Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth

Healthy teeth and gums make it easy for you to eat well and enjoy good food. Several problems can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong as you age.

Tooth Decay

Teeth are covered in a hard, outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria called dental plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that can harm enamel and cause cavities. Brushing and flossing your teeth can prevent decay, but once a cavity forms, a dentist has to fix it.

Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from decay. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of a condition you have or medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit or may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.

Gum Disease

Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under your gum line. This plaque causes infections that hurt the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease may make your gums tender and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by brushing and flossing every day.

A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, must be treated by a dentist. If not treated, this infection can ruin the bones, gums, and other tissues that support your teeth. Over time, your teeth may have to be removed.

To prevent gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss once a day.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for a checkup and cleaning.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for gum disease.

How to Clean Your Teeth and Gums

There is a right way to brush and floss your teeth. Every day:

  • Gently brush your teeth on all sides with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes.
  • Brush carefully and gently along your gum line.
  • Lightly brush your tongue to help keep your mouth clean.
  • Clean around your teeth with dental floss. Careful flossing removes plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Rinse after you floss.

People with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand motion may find it hard to hold and use a toothbrush. Some helpful tips are:

  • Use an electric or battery-operated toothbrush.
  • Slide a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle of the toothbrush.
  • Buy a toothbrush with a larger handle.
  • Attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band.

See your dentist if brushing or flossing causes your gums to bleed or hurts your mouth. If you have trouble flossing, a floss holder may help. Ask your dentist to show you the right way to floss.

How to Floss

Hold floss as shown.

Use floss between upper teeth.

Use floss between lower teeth.


Sometimes, false teeth (dentures) are needed to replace badly damaged teeth. Partial dentures may be used to fill in one or more missing teeth. Dentures may feel strange at first. In the beginning, your dentist may want to see you often to make sure the dentures fit. Over time, your gums will change shape, and your dentures may need to be adjusted or replaced. Be sure to let your dentist handle these adjustments.

Be careful when wearing dentures, because it may be harder for you to feel hot foods and drinks or notice bones in your food. When learning to eat with dentures, it may be easier if you:

  • Start with soft, non-sticky food.
  • Cut your food into small pieces.
  • Chew slowly using both sides of your mouth.

Keep your dentures clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath, or swollen gums. Brush them every day with a denture-care product. Take your dentures out of your mouth at night, and soak them in water or a denture-cleansing liquid.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth happens when you don’t have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth wet. It can make it hard to eat, swallow, taste, and even speak. Dry mouth can accelerate tooth decay and other infections of the mouth. Many common medicines can cause this problem.

There are things you can do that may help. Try sipping water or sugarless drinks. Don’t smoke, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Sugarless hard candy or sugarless gum that is a little tart may help. Your dentist or doctor might suggest using artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.

Oral Cancer

Cancer of the mouth can grow in any part of the mouth or throat. It is more likely to happen in people over age 40. A dental checkup is a good time for your dentist to look for signs of oral cancer. Pain is not usually an early symptom of the disease. Treatment works best before the disease spreads. Even if you have lost all your natural teeth, you should still see your dentist for regular oral cancer exams.

You can lower your risk of getting oral cancer in a few ways:

  • Do not use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff, pipes, or cigars.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation.
  • Use lip balm with sunscreen.

Finding Low-Cost Dental Care

Dental care can be costly. Medicare does not cover routine dental care, and very few States offer dental coverage under Medicaid. You may want to check out private dental insurance for older people. Make sure you are aware of the cost and what services are covered. The following resources may help you find low-cost dental care:

  • Some dental schools have clinics where students get experience treating patients at a reduced cost. Qualified dentists supervise the students. Visit for a list of U.S. dental schools.
  • Dental hygiene schools may offer supervised, low-cost care as part of the training experience for dental hygienists. See schools listed by State at
  • Call your county or State health department to find dental clinics near you that charge based on your income.
  • To locate a community health center near you that offers dental services, visit
  • United Way chapters may be able to direct you to free or reduced-cost dental services in your community. Call “211” to reach a local United Way chapter or visit

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information About Healthy Teeth and Gums

American Dental Association
1-800-621-8099 (toll-free)

American Dental Hygienists’ Association

Health Resources and Services Administration Information Center

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
1-866-232-4528 (toll-free)

United Way Worldwide
Call “211”

This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.

Content reviewed: June 01, 2016

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