Mouth sores are not only painful, but potentially indicative of a deeper problem. They can appear on the tongue, lips, gums, roof of the mouth or cheeks. But on your own it can be tough to identify exactly what kind of sores you have and what’s causing them.
Use the information below to learn about the different kinds of mouth sores, but make sure to always check with your doctor or dentist to get a proper diagnosis.
These blisters that occur inside the mouth are small yet painful. Often lasting up to two weeks, they can occur on your cheek, tongue or gums. They usually have a red border with a white, yellow or gray center.
- Causes – The exact cause is unknown and can vary from person to person. In addition to genetics, some possible triggers include stress, hormones, fatigue, hypersensitivity, tissue injury, infection, certain foods and vitamin deficiencies. Certain foods, such as citrus or acidic fruits, can cause a canker sore or make one worse. In addition, they can arise because of irritation from braces or poorly fitting dentures. In some cases, canker sores are caused by an impaired immune system or gastrointestinal disease such as celiac or Crohn’s disease.
- Treatment – There’s no way to speed up getting rid of canker sores, so treatment is all about reducing the pain and discomfort. They’re most often treated with numbing creams or prescription drugs – as well as avoiding spicy or acidic foods.
- Prevention – If you’re prone to canker sores, make sure to avoid irritating foods and drinks, eat healthy foods, practice good oral hygiene, cover sharp edges of orthodontics and reduce your stress as much as possible.
Also called fever blisters, cold sores are a viral infection. The tiny, fluid-filled blisters occur on and around the lips and are often grouped in patches.
- Causes – Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which can be spread by close contact such as kissing or sharing utensils. They are contagious even when you don’t see the sores.
- Treatment – There is no cure for HSV infection. Cold sores can be treated by over-the-counter creams as well as antiviral medications. These treatments may help the sores heal more quickly and reduce how often they return.
Also known as oral candidiasis, this condition most often occurs in babies and older adults. Oral thrush is a fungal infection that produces creamy red and white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue. It can not only be painful, but may cause difficulty tasting/swallowing and bad breath.
- Causes – Oral thrush is caused by candida yeast. It can grow because of a weakened immune system, diabetes, dry mouth, antibiotics or certain medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids. It can also be caused by dentures that haven’t been properly cleaned.
- Treatment – The first step to treating oral thrush is to stop the spread of the fungus. This can be accomplished by using an antifungal medication – given in the form of lozenges, a liquid or tablets. If these aren’t effective, oral medicine may be provided.
This rare rash is characterized by lacy, white patches and shiny red bumps that occur on the tongue or inside of the cheeks. The lesions may be painful but are not contagious.
- Causes – Lichen planus can be triggered by a hepatitis C infection, pain relievers (ibuprofen and naproxen), the flu vaccine, or certain heart disease, arthritis or blood pressure medications.
- Treatment – This condition usually doesn’t require any treatment, but if it causes pain or ulcers, oral medication can provide relief. In some cases, lichen planus can be chronic and increase the risk of oral cancer.
This condition causes the formation of thick, white patches on the gums, bottom of the mouth, inside of the cheeks and sometimes the tongue. These patches are usually painless, but can’t be scraped off. In some cases, leukoplakia can be precancerous.
- Causes – While the exact cause of leukoplakia is unknown, it is thought to be brought on by tobacco use, jagged or broken teeth, broken or ill-fitting dentures or long-term alcohol use. Hairy leukoplakia is a form of leukoplakia that mostly affects those with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS.
- Treatment – Treatment for leukoplakia is the most successful when found early, in its smallest stage. For many, removing the irritant – such as tobacco use – can clear it up. However, if this is unsuccessful or the lesions point to early signs of cancer, treatment may include removal of the leukoplakia patches.
Erythroplakia appears as a red patch that’s often found in the gum tissue behind the back teeth or the floor of the mouth. The lesion will often bleed when scraped. Most cases of these patches are found to be precancerous or cancerous once biopsied.
- Causes – While the cause is unknown, it’s believed to be associated with smoking, tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Poor nutrition and chronic irritation may also be contributing factors. Erythroplakia usually doesn’t cover a large area and can develop without any symptoms or pain.
- Treatment – After an examination, the most common next step is a biopsy to test for cancer. If the result indicates cancer, specialists will explore treatment such as removing the lesion and surrounding tissue.
Oral cancer will present as mouth sores that don’t go away on the lips or inside the mouth. The sores may appear as a red or white lesion, ulcer or lump. Oral cancer may also cause numbness in the mouth, face or neck, as well as problems speaking, swallowing or chewing.
- Causes – Oral cancer can be caused by cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, overexposure to the sun, heavy drinking and a family history of cancer. It’s also been linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Treatment – Treatment will vary depending on the cancer’s stage and location. It may involve a combination of treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
If you experience any mouth sores that disrupt your normal routine, recur or last for more than a few days, see a doctor or dentist. At Greenhill Family Dental Center, our team can provide a full examination and comfortable, comprehensive treatment.