- Mouth sores are common and can occur in individuals of all ages
- They can develop on the lips, tongue, inside of cheeks, and on the gums and roof of the mouth
- Mouth sores can be caused by a range of factors including infections, injuries, certain medications, and underlying health conditions
- They are usually not serious and often heal on their own, but some cases may require medical attention
- Treatment depends on the type of mouth sore and underlying cause
What are Mouth Sores?
Mouth sores, also known as oral ulcers or mucosal lesions, are painful or discomforting lesions that can develop in various areas within the mouth. They come in different shapes and sizes, and their characteristics can vary based on the underlying cause. While they can be bothersome, most mouth sores are harmless and resolve on their own within a couple of weeks. However, in some instances, they may indicate an underlying health issue and require proper diagnosis and treatment.
What are the Different Types of Mouth Sores?
Mouth sores can be categorized into several types, each with its own set of causes and characteristics:
- Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers): These are small, round sores that can be white, gray, or yellow with a red border. They often appear inside the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or under the tongue. The exact cause is unknown, but they can be triggered by stress, tissue injury, or certain foods.
- Cold Sores (Fever Blisters): Cold sores are groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that typically appear around the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and are highly contagious.
- Oral Thrush (Candidiasis): This is a fungal infection in the mouth caused by an overgrowth of the Candida yeast. It appears as white patches on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, and sometimes on the roof of the mouth.
- Leukoplakia: These are thick, white patches that form on the inside of the cheeks, gums or tongue. They are usually caused by tobacco use or other irritants. Unlike oral thrush, these patches cannot be scraped off.
- Mucous Cyst (Mucocele): A mucous cyst is a painless, thin, fluid-filled sac that can develop on the inside of the lips, cheeks, or on the floor of the mouth, often due to injury to the salivary glands.
- Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: This is a viral infection common in children that can cause sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.
- Oral Lichen Planus: This condition causes a network of raised white lines on the mucous membranes with occasional red, painful sores.
What are the Symptoms of Mouth Sores?
The symptoms of mouth sores can vary based on the type of sore.
Common symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort in the mouth
- Burning or tingling sensation before the sores appear
- Swelling of the mucous membranes
- White, gray, or yellow sores with red borders (in the case of canker sores)
- Fluid-filled blisters (in the case of cold sores)
- White patches (in the case of oral thrush or leukoplakia)
- Difficulty in eating, drinking, or speaking due to pain
- Fever and fatigue, particularly if the sores are due to a viral infection
Who Do Mouth Sores Affect?
Mouth sores can affect individuals of all ages, from children to the elderly. However, some types of mouth sores are more common in certain age groups or populations. For example, canker sores often occur in teenagers and young adults, and are more common in females. Cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus, can affect anyone who has been exposed to the virus. Hand, foot, and mouth disease primarily affects children under the age of 5. People with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, are more susceptible to developing mouth sores, including oral thrush.
What’s the Most Common Type of Mouth Sore?
Canker sores and cold sores are among the most common types of mouth sores. Canker sores are quite prevalent, especially among adolescents and young adults. Cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus, are also widespread, with a large portion of the population being carriers of the virus.
What Causes Mouth Sores?
The causes of mouth sores vary depending on the type of sore:
- Canker Sores: The exact cause is unknown, but factors such as stress, tissue injury, certain foods (especially acidic or spicy), vitamin deficiencies, hormonal changes, and family history can contribute to the development of canker sores.
- Cold Sores: Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (usually type 1, HSV-1). Once infected, the virus remains dormant in the body and can reactivate due to triggers such as stress, illness, or exposure to the sun.
- Oral Thrush: Caused by the overgrowth of the Candida fungus, which is normally present in the mouth. Factors such as a weakened immune system, certain medications (e.g., antibiotics), or health conditions like diabetes can lead to an overgrowth.
- Leukoplakia: Often associated with tobacco use, including smoking and chewing tobacco. It can also be caused by other irritants like ill-fitting dentures or broken teeth.
- Mucous Cysts: Usually develop due to injury to the salivary glands or ducts, such as accidentally biting the inside of your cheek.
- Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: This is caused by a virus, most commonly the coxsackievirus.
- Oral Lichen Planus: The cause of oral lichen planus is not completely understood, but it is thought to be related to an immune system response.
- Other Causes: Mouth sores can also be caused by medications, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, allergies, hormonal changes, and some systemic diseases.
- Direct Contact: Kissing or sharing utensils, lip balm, or anything that has come into contact with a cold sore can spread the virus.
- Airborne Droplets: Coughing and sneezing can spread viruses like the ones causing hand, foot, and mouth disease.
- Touch: Touching a cold sore and then touching another person or object can spread the virus.
- Saliva: Sharing drinks or food with someone who has a contagious mouth sore can spread the infection.
- Cold Sores: These are viral, caused by the herpes simplex virus.
- Canker Sores: The exact cause is unknown, but they are not caused by a virus or bacteria and are not contagious.
- Oral Thrush: This is a fungal infection caused by the overgrowth of Candida yeast.
- Gingivostomatitis: This can be either viral or bacterial. It can be caused by the herpes simplex virus or by bacteria in the mouth.
- Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: This is a viral infection, usually caused by the coxsackievirus.
- Cold Sores: As mentioned earlier, these are caused by the herpes simplex virus and can develop on the lips or around the mouth.
- Angular Cheilitis: This is characterized by sores in the corners of the mouth and can be caused by a fungal or bacterial infection.
- Impetigo: This is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can cause red sores around the mouth and other areas of the face.
- Contact Dermatitis: Allergic reactions or irritations to lip products or foods can cause sores around the mouth.
- Acne: Pimples and acne can sometimes be mistaken for sores, especially if they are around the mouth.
- Visual Examination: The healthcare provider will examine the mouth, noting the location, size, and characteristics of the sore.
- Medical History: A review of your medical history to determine if you have had any recent illnesses, allergies, or changes in medication.
- Laboratory Tests: In some cases, a sample of the sore or saliva may be taken and sent to a laboratory to identify the cause of the infection, especially if viral or bacterial infections are suspected.
- Biopsy: In rare cases, if there’s a suspicion of a more serious underlying issue, a small sample of tissue may be taken from the sore for examination under a microscope.
- Pain or discomfort in the mouth
- Swelling of the gums or inside the mouth
- Sores or lesions in the mouth
- Pus or discharge
- Bad breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Keep your mouth clean by gently brushing and using a mouthwash.
- Avoid spicy, salty, or acidic foods that may irritate the sore.
- Use over-the-counter topical ointments or gels that are designed to relieve pain from mouth sores.
- If the sore is due to a bacterial infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
- For viral infections such as cold sores, antiviral medications might be prescribed.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water several times a day.
- Mashed potatoes
- Scrambled eggs
- Cottage cheese
- Ice cream
- Well-cooked vegetables
- Soups (but avoid very hot soups as they might irritate the sore)
- Oral Hygiene: Practice good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly, and using a mouthwash to keep your mouth clean.
- Healthy Diet: Eat a balanced diet that includes essential vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system.
- Avoid Irritants: If you are prone to canker sores, avoid foods that can irritate the mouth such as spicy, salty, or acidic foods.
- Stress Management: As stress can trigger mouth sores in some individuals, learn stress management techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Avoid Sharing Personal Items: Don’t share toothbrushes, eating utensils, or drinking glasses, especially with someone who has an active oral infection.
- Discomfort or Pain: Mouth sores can be uncomfortable, especially when eating, drinking, or speaking.
- Healing Time: Most mouth sores, such as canker sores, tend to heal on their own within one to two weeks. Cold sores may take a little longer to heal.
- Recurrence: Some types of mouth sores, particularly cold sores, can recur throughout a person’s lifetime.
- Your mouth sores are unusually large or are spreading
- The sores have not healed within two weeks
- You have a high fever, difficulty swallowing, or a rash along with mouth sores
- The pain is severe and unmanageable
- You have difficulty eating or drinking due to the sores
Recognizing the various causes of mouth sores is essential for appropriate treatment and management. In some cases, the prevention of mouth sores may be possible by avoiding known triggers or maintaining good oral hygiene.
Are Mouth Sores Contagious?
Whether or not mouth sores are contagious depends on the type of sore. Cold sores, for example, are highly contagious, as they are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is also contagious. On the other hand, canker sores are not contagious, and neither are oral lichen planus or leukoplakia.
How Do Mouth Sores Spread?
For the contagious types of mouth sores, such as cold sores and hand, foot, and mouth disease, the spread can occur through various means:
How Long Are Cold Sores Contagious?
Cold sores are most contagious when they are oozing, but the herpes virus can be spread even when a person does not have visible sores. Cold sores are generally contagious from the first tingle or sensation of an upcoming sore until it has completely healed, which is usually about two to three weeks. However, the virus can be spread even in the absence of symptoms.
Are Mouth Sores Viral or Bacterial?
Mouth sores can be either viral or bacterial, depending on the type. For example:
What Causes Sores Around the Mouth?
Sores around the mouth can be caused by a variety of factors:
In all cases, proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to effectively manage and resolve mouth sores.
How are Mouth Sores Diagnosed?
Diagnosing mouth sores involves a combination of physical examination and patient history.
Depending on the symptoms and the type of sore, the healthcare provider may use the following methods:
Should I See a Doctor or Dentist for Mouth Sores?
Whether you should see a doctor or a dentist for mouth sores depends on the nature of the sore and your symptoms. If you have recurrent sores, unusually large sores, sores that are spreading, or sores that have not healed within two weeks, it is advisable to see a healthcare provider. Dentists are often equipped to handle common mouth sores. However, if you are experiencing additional symptoms such as fever, difficulty swallowing, or if you suspect the sore is due to a systemic infection, seeing a doctor might be more appropriate.
How Do I Know If I Have a Mouth Infection?
Some signs and symptoms that might indicate a mouth infection include:
How Do You Heal a Sore in Your Mouth?
Treatment for a sore in your mouth depends on the cause.
Some general tips for healing and relief include:
What Should I Eat When I Have a Mouth Sore?
When you have a mouth sore, it’s best to eat soft, bland foods that won’t irritate the sore.
Some examples include:
Avoid foods and drinks that are spicy, salty, acidic, or alcoholic, as they can cause discomfort. Also, it’s best to avoid hard or crunchy foods that might scratch the sore.
Can Mouth Sores Be Prevented?
While not all mouth sores can be prevented, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of developing them:
What Can I Expect If I Have Mouth Sores?
The experience of having mouth sores can vary depending on the type and cause of the sore.
Generally, you can expect:
When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider?
You should call your healthcare provider if:
Are Cold Sores a Symptom of COVID-19?
Cold sores, which are typically caused by the herpes simplex virus, are not a common symptom of COVID-19. The common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, and difficulty breathing. However, stress and illness can trigger cold sores, so if you have COVID-19 and are under stress, it might trigger a cold sore if you are already infected with the herpes simplex virus.
Mouth sores are a common occurrence and can be caused by various factors including infections, irritation, or underlying medical conditions. While some mouth sores can be prevented through good oral hygiene and a healthy lifestyle, others may be unavoidable. It is important to monitor mouth sores for any signs of complications and to seek medical advice if they do not heal within a reasonable timeframe, are particularly painful, or are accompanied by other symptoms. Managing mouth sores effectively and understanding their causes can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected.
This article is complete and was published on July 15, 2023, and last updated on August 25, 2023.