Sores that develop in the mouth and other irritations are relatively common, but they can be a source of discomfort for many people. Most heal on their own within a week or two; for others, you may need a visit to the dentist.
Here are some of the more common soft-tissue disturbances and advice from the American Dental Association on what you can do about them:
- Canker sores: Canker sores often develop inside the mouth as small white or gray sores that have a red border. They are not contagious. Canker sores may occur as one sore or several. In some cases, the cause is unknown, but trauma to oral soft tissues is a common cause of canker sores. They usually heal on their own after one or two weeks. However, they are painful; over-the-counter topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouthrinses may provide temporary relief. Spicy, salty or acidic foods such as citrus fruits or juices can irritate sores.
- Cold sores: Also called “fever blisters,” cold sores appear as clusters of red, raised blisters outside the mouth—typically around the lips—although they can develop under the nose or around the chin. Cold sore blisters are filled with fluid and can break open, which allows the fluid to leak out. They then can scab over until they heal. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. The initial infection with the virus can be accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms and can cause painful oral lesions. There is no cure for the herpes virus. Once you are infected, the virus stays in the body and causes occasional flare-ups associated with the cold sores. Cold sore blisters usually heal by themselves in about one week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some pain relief. Your dentist may prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce the healing time for these sores.
- Leukoplakia: This is an overgrowth of cells that results in a rough patch of whitish tissue. It can develop anywhere in your mouth. The patches typically are not painful and are not contagious. They can result from irritations such as ill-fitting dentures or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Leukoplakia also occurs among tobacco users. Treatment begins with identifying the source of the irritation. Once the irritant is removed, which may mean quitting tobacco, the patches should disappear. Sometimes, leukoplakia is associated with oral cancer, so it’s important to see your dentist if you notice any of these patches developing. Your dentist may recommend a biopsy if the patch appears suspicious.
- Candidiasis: Also called “oral thrush,” candidiasis is a yeast infection that develops on the soft, moist tissues inside your mouth. It appears as a smooth, white patch with a red base, which can be sore or can bleed. Candidiasis is caused by a fungus and typically develops when the immune system is weakened. People who are in poor health, the very old or very young, and people with systemic diseases such as diabetes are at risk of developing oral candidiasis. Some medications such as steroid or cancer therapies may increase the risk of developing this infection. Antibiotics also increase the risk of developing infection because they can alter the normal balance of bacteria in the mouth. Treating mouth sores consists of controlling the conditions that cause the outbreak. Because candidiasis is common among denture-wearers, a thorough daily cleaning of dentures is important, and removing dentures at night allows the denture-bearing tissues to regenerate. Talk with your dentist if you develop candidiasis. He or she can counsel you on ways to treat it, which may include the use of antifungal medications.
Be sure to talk to your dentist if you develop any sore or irritation in or around your mouth that does not heal within a couple of weeks. He or she may want to examine the lesion more closely or prescribe a medication to treat the sore or help you manage any discomfort caused by the irritation.
More information about dental topics can be found on MouthHealthy.org, the ADA’s consumer website.© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.