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Sores in mouth—Worry?

Alice,

I've been getting sores in my mouth frequently. Should I be worried?

— Exposed

Exposed, 

Sore-y to hear that you've been having a hard time. Mouth sores can crop up on any soft tissues in your mouth including your lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, or the floor or roof of your mouth. Mouth sores can be caused by irritation from things like biting your lip, tongue, or inner cheek; brushing your teeth too aggressively; using tobacco products; braces; or burning your mouth from eating or drinking something hot. Not all mouth sores are equal as they often range in severity and may require different treatments (more on this to come). 

Some mouth sores, such as gingivostomatitis, can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection while others, like thrush, can be caused by yeast infections. The most common mouth sores, however, are either cold sores or canker sores. Cold sores are highly contagious sores located on or around your lips and are often caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV can lay dormant in your body for years before popping up as a mouth sore. It may be triggered by things like illness, hormone changes, stress, or sun exposure. Canker sores on the other hand, are non-contagious sores located inside the mouth but can appear because of similar reasons: a weakness in your immune system from another illness, hormone changes, stress, or missing vitamins and minerals in your diet such as vitamin B12 or folate. If you're unsure whether your mouth sores are of the cold or canker variety, you may try examining the lesions more closely. Before a cold sore appears, you may feel some tenderness, tingling, or burning. Canker sores are pale-colored and have a red outer ring. 

Usually, common mouth sores go away on their own after approximately ten to fourteen days. There are some strategies you can try to help reduce any pain you may be experiencing. However, if a long-term cure is what you're after, you might consider re-evaluating common activities that could be making you more prone to getting them: 

  • Consider waiting for hot foods and drinks to cool down before digging in. 
  • Chewing more slowly to avoid biting the inside of your mouth can also help. 
  • Switching to a softer toothbrush or using less pressure can be gentler on your gums. 
  • Consider practicing relaxation methods—while research has found a correlation between cankers sores and stress, it’s not clear how exactly they are related. 

If your mouth sores last longer than two weeks or become painful, a visit to your health care provider may be the next best step. They may be able to offer treatment options like pain-relief medicines, antiviral medications, or products to reduce the swelling like a paste or gel. Your health care provider can also help you figure out what may be the cause of these mouth sores and offer more specific advice on how to prevent and treat them in the future. 

Good luck and happy healing! 

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Last updated Apr 14, 2023
Originally published Sep 01, 1994