Mouth sores can range from mildly irritating to extremely painful, from harmless white spots to open sores or precancerous lesions. If you get one, don’t panic, there’s a good chance it will go away on its own. But if it sticks around, it’s time to call your dentist to rule out oral cancer. Like so many oral health problems, tobacco products are often a root cause. If you use tobacco, the new year is a great time to stop.
What Causes Mouth Sores?
The causes of mouth sores can range from dentures or braces rubbing the wrong way to early-stage oral cancer. In many cases, they’re directly or indirectly related to tobacco use, nutrition, and underlying illness or chronic conditions. The American Dental Association has identified the following as the leading causes:
- Oral cancer.
- Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.
- Irritations from dentures, braces, or broken fillings.
- Sensitivity to ingredients in toothpaste or mouth rinse.
- Medications for other conditions or cancer treatments.
What Are The Most Common Types of Mouth Sores?
Here’s a look at some common types of mouth sores and how they happen:
- Cold Sores are caused by a contagious herpes virus that stays in the body and flares up periodically. Cold sores start as blisters that appear on the lips or other parts of the mouth and then turn into scabs.
- Canker Sores are shallow lesions that often appear on the inside of the cheek. They’re usually white or gray in the center and red on the outside. Unlike cold sores, they are not contagious. Instead, they’re the result of an immune response often caused by vitamin deficiencies or an injury to the mouth. They can come from a habit of biting the cheek or eating certain foods. Mild canker sores should go away on their own, but more severe cases may require a visit to your dentist.
- Oral thrush is a fungal infection that causes white and red patches on the mouth or tongue’s surface. According to the ADA, thrush can be painful and cause bad breath and problems swallowing. We usually see this condition in young children, the elderly (especially denture wearers), and people with underlying illnesses.
- Leukoplakia are the white and gray patches that develop on the inside of your mouth. According to the ADA, they’re caused by excessive irritation and are often related to tobacco use. Cheek biting, a broken tooth, or a piece of dental work that rubs against the mouth can cause these white spots. They’re usually harmless but can become cancerous, so it’s best to have your dentist check them out.
- Erythroplakia are red patches often found on the floor of the mouth or behind the back teeth. They are generally associated with tobacco and alcohol use and poor nutrition, according to the ADA. Unlike Leukoplakia, these lesions are usually precancerous and need to be checked out by your dentist.
How Can I Prevent Mouth Sores?
Taking care of your body and practicing good oral hygiene are the best ways to prevent mouth sores.
- Avoid or quit tobacco products.
- Good nutrition is essential. Monitor what you eat and drink, and make sure you’re getting enough vitamins like B-12, zinc and iron to help prevent canker sores.
- Avoid and find ways to mediate stress. If you have the virus that causes cold sores, stress is often a significant trigger.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol can help cause or exacerbate several conditions that cause mouth sores.
- Clean your dentures regularly to get rid of bacteria that can cause infection.
- Avoid biting the inside of your cheek.
- See your dentist twice a year for preventive care and schedule an appointment if you have pain or other concerns.
What Treatments Are Available for Mouth Sores?
Many mouth sores go away on their own and don’t require treatment. However, if mouth sores last for more than two weeks or become a recurring problem, talk with your dentist about treatment options:
- Prescription mouthwashes.
- Saliva replacement treatments.
- Antifungal medications for thrush and other fungal infections.
- Topical or oral corticosteroids can help with canker sores in severe cases.
- Your dentist may prescribe an antiviral medication for cold sores. They generally don’t have much effect after blisters appear but can reduce the length of the outbreak.
Should I See My Dentist About Mouth Sores?
Sticking with semi-annual dental check-ups is an excellent way to prevent mouth sores and catch any problems early. The ADA also recommends seeing your dentist if you have a mouth sore that lasts more than two weeks. Your dentist will screen for oral cancer and discuss prevention and treatment options for other problems. At Greenhill Family Dental Care, our focus is on prevention. But if problems persist, we offer judgment-free treatment. Persistent mouth sores are not something to take lightly, so it’s crucial to see your dentist if mouth sores don’t go away. And, if you’re a tobacco user, let’s talk about strategies for quitting in 2021.