What’s that Sore? Five Common Problems In and Around the Mouth


woman with sore mouth

Sores in and around the mouth can be uncomfortable, unsightly, and even downright embarrassing. There are many different types of mouth sores too-- some more serious than others. Some mouth sores will clear up on their own, while others will require professional treatment before they resolve. Let's consider five of the most common mouth sores below:

  • Cold Sores. Despite the name, cold sores are not caused by the common cold. Instead, cold sores-- sometimes dubbed "fever blisters"-- are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores typically present as clusters of red blisters located outside of the mouth-- most often, they appear around the lips. Cold sores are contagious; close contact with an infected person-- such as kissing or sharing utensils-- can spread the virus. Often, over-the-counter ointments and creams can help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by cold sores. If outbreaks become frequent, however, a prescription medication might be necessary.
  • Canker Sores. Although canker sores are sometimes confused with cold sores, the two are actually not related. Canker sores-- which are small, painful blisters located inside of the mouth-- are somewhat of a mystery. In fact, experts aren't sure what exactly causes these blisters to develop, although they do tend to run in families. Other potential triggers include stress, menstruation, and certain diseases. About half of the population are affected by canker sores; the blisters often develop a few times a year. Sometimes only a single sore appears; other times, several blisters appear at once. Unlike cold sores, canker sores are not contagious.
  • Thrush. Thrush-- also known as candidiasis-- typically presents as white spots on the tongue or inside the mouth. Thrush is particularly common in older adults and babies, but can also run rampant in anyone with a weakened immune system. Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of candida yeast and is often treated with antifungal medication, sometimes in the form of a mouthwash. A final note: while it might be tempting to try to brush or rub away the white spots, this will only result in soreness.
  • Oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, throat, salivary glands, and even the sinuses. In the earliest stages, many oral cancers present as small lumps or sores in or around the mouth. While the exact cause of oral cancer is undetermined, there are a number of risk factors for developing the disease, including smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and excessive sun exposure. When detected and treated early, oral cancers are highly curable; thus, regularly checking your mouth for lumps, sores, and patches is essential.
  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a common childhood virus, although it can sometimes occur in adults. Caused by the enterovirus, hand-foot-and-mouth disease leads to sores in and around the mouth. The sores-- which are often painful-- also commonly occur on the hands and feet. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious; it spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. Thus, outbreaks in schools and daycares are common. While hand-foot-and mouth disease doesn't typically require treatment, measures can be taken to relieve symptoms while the virus runs its course. Drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding spicy and acidic foods, and using over-the-counter pain relievers are effective ways to ease symptoms.

If you're suffering from sores in or around your mouth that persist for several days, it's important to visit your dentist or doctor to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. Not seeking treatment can sometimes result in more serious oral health concerns. For more information about mouth sores, or to schedule an appointment with our office, contact us today. We pride ourselves in providing our patients with beautiful and healthy smiles.

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