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Mouth Sores: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention Methods

Mouth Sores: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention Methods

Pictures of mouth sores | Symptoms | Causes | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention | Long-term effects


Mouth sores are common ailments that affect many people at some point in their lives.

These sores can appear on any of the soft tissues of your mouth, including your lips, cheeks, gums, tongue, and floor and roof of your mouth. You can even develop mouth sores on your esophagus, the tube leading to your stomach.

Mouth sores, which include canker sores, are usually a minor irritation and last only a week or two. In some cases, however, they can indicate mouth cancer or an infection from a virus, such as herpes simplex.

Conditions that cause mouth sores

Different conditions can cause mouth sores. Here is a list of 13 possible causes. Warning: Graphic images ahead.

Cold sore

  • Red, painful, fluid-filled blister that appears near the mouth and lips
  • The affected area will often tingle or burn before the sore is visible
  • Outbreaks may also be accompanied by mild, flu-like symptoms such as low fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes

Read the full article on cold sores.


  • Symptoms occur when your red blood cells are so reduced, damaged, or impaired that you have problems transporting enough oxygen throughout your body
  • Symptoms include pale, cold skin, pale gums, dizziness, light-headedness, fatigue, increased or decreased blood pressure, and racing or pounding heart
  • Anemia has many causes and may occur quickly (such as after an injury or surgery) or over a long period of time

Read the full article on anemia.


  • Gingivomatitis is a common infection of the mouth and gums, often seen in children
  • It produces tender sores on the gums or insides of cheeks; like canker sores, they appear grayish or yellow on the outside and red in the center
  • It also causes mild, flu-like symptoms
  • It may lead to drooling and pain with eating, especially in young children

Read the full article on gingivostomatitis.

Infectious mononucleosis

  • Infectious mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • It mainly occurs in high school and college students
  • Symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, headache, fatigue, night sweats, and body aches
  • Symptoms may last for up to 2 months

Read the full article on infectious mononucleosis.

Canker sore

  • Canker sores are also called aphthous stomatitis or aphthous ulcers
  • They are small, painful, oval-shaped ulcers on the inside of the mouth that appear red, white, or yellow in color
  • They are usually harmless and heal on their own in a couple of weeks
  • They are often caused due to trauma
  • Recurrent ulcers may be a sign of other diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, vitamin deficiency, or HIV

Read the full article on canker sores.

Folate deficiency

  • Folate is an important B vitamin used to make and repair DNA and is critical to proper neural tube development in embryos
  • Anemia, or low red blood cells, is the most common result of folate deficiency
  • Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, fatigue, mouth sores, tongue swelling, gray hair, and growth delay

Read the full article on folate deficiency.

Oral thrush

  • This is a yeast infection that develops on the inside of your mouth and on your tongue
  • It’s most common in infants and children, but it may be a sign of a weakened immune system in adults
  • Creamy white bumps appear on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or tonsils that can be scraped off
  • Symptoms include pain at the site of the bumps, loss of taste, and difficulty swallowing
  • Dry, cracked skin at the corners of the mouth is another possible symptom

Read the full article on oral thrush.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease

  • Usually affects children under age 5
  • Painful, red blisters in the mouth and on the tongue and gums
  • Flat or raised red spots located on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet
  • Spots may also appear on the buttocks or genital area

Read the full article on hand, foot, and mouth disease.


  • Leukoplakia causes thick, white patches on your tongue and the lining of your mouth that may be raised, hard, or have a “hairy” appearance
  • It’s commonly seen in smokers
  • Leukoplakia is usually harmless and often goes away on its own, but more serious cases may be linked to oral cancer
  • Regular dental care can help prevent recurrences and monitoring of the size of the areas

Read the full article on leukoplakia.

Oral lichen planus

  • This chronic inflammatory disorder affects the gums, lips, cheeks, and tongue
  • White, lacy, raised patches of tissue in the mouth resemble spiderwebs or tender, swollen patches that are bright red and may ulcerate
  • Open ulcers may bleed and cause pain when eating or brushing teeth

Read the full article on oral lichen planus.

Celiac disease

  • Celiac disease is an abnormal immune system response to gluten that damages the lining of the small intestine
  • Damage to the small intestine villi leads to poor absorption of important dietary nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, and calcium
  • Symptoms range in severity and may differ between adults and children
  • Common adult symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, stomach pain, anemia, joint pain, bloating, gas, fatty stools, skin rash, and mouth sores
  • Common symptoms in children include weight loss, growth delay, delayed puberty, chronic diarrhea or constipation, stomach pain, and yellow/discolored teeth

Read the full article on celiac disease.

Mouth cancer

  • This cancer affects any of the working parts of your mouth or oral cavity including lips, cheeks, teeth, gums, front two-thirds of the tongue, roof, and floor of the mouth
  • Ulcers, white patches, or red patches appear inside the mouth or on the lips that do not heal
  • Weight loss, bleeding gums, ear pain, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck are other symptoms

Read the full article on mouth cancer.

Pemphigus Vulgaris

  • Pemphigus Vulgaris is a rare autoimmune disease
  • It affects the skin and mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, nose, eyes, genitals, anus, and lungs
  • Painful, itchy skin blisters appear that break and bleed easily
  • Blisters in the mouth and throat may cause pain with swallowing and eating

Read the full article on pemphigus Vulgaris.

What are the symptoms of mouth sores?

In most cases, mouth sores cause some redness and pain, especially when eating and drinking. They can also cause a burning or tingling sensation around the sore. Depending on the size, severity, and location of the sores in your mouth, they can make it difficult to eat, drink, swallow, talk, or breathe. The sores may also develop blisters.

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • sores that are larger than half an inch in diameter
  • frequent outbreaks of mouth sores
  • rash
  • joint pain
  • fever
  • diarrhea

What causes mouth sores?

Several things can lead to mouth sores, ranging from minor everyday causes to serious illnesses. Usually, a mouth sore might develop if you:

  • bite your tongue, cheek, or lip
  • burn your mouth
  • experience irritation from a sharp object, such as braces, retainer, or dentures
  • brush your teeth too hard, or use a very firm toothbrush
  • chew tobacco
  • have the herpes simplex virus

Healthcare providers don’t know what causes canker sores. However, these sores aren’t contagious.

You may be more prone to them due to:

  • a weakened immune system because of illness or stress
  • hormone changes
  • a vitamin deficiency, especially of folate and B-12
  • intestinal issues, such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Occasionally, mouth sores are the result of — or a reaction to — the following:

  • over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • gingivostomatitis
  • infectious mononucleosis
  • oral thrush
  • hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • radiation or chemotherapy
  • autoimmune disorders
  • bleeding disorders
  • cancer
  • celiac disease
  • bacterial, viral, or fungal infection
  • a weakened immune system due to AIDS or a recent organ transplant

Do mouth sores need to be diagnosed?

You can usually tell when you have a mouth sore without needing a healthcare provider’s diagnosis. However, you should see your healthcare provider if you:

  • have white patches on your sores; this may be a sign of leukoplakia or oral lichen planus
  • have, or suspect you may have, herpes simplex or another infection
  • have sores that don’t go away or get worse after a couple of weeks
  • started taking a new medication
  • started cancer treatment
  • recently had transplant surgery

During your visit, your healthcare provider will examine your mouth, tongue, and lips. If they suspect you have cancer, they may perform a biopsy and run some tests.

How are mouth sores treated?

Minor mouth sores often go away naturally within 10 to 14 days, but they can last up to six weeks. Some simple home remedies might help reduce the pain and possibly speed up the healing process. You may want to:

  • avoid hot, spicy, salty, citrus-based, and high-sugar foods
  • avoid tobacco and alcohol
  • gargle with saltwater
  • eat ice, ice pops, sherbet, or other cold foods
  • take pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • avoid squeezing or picking at the sores or blisters
  • apply a thin paste of baking soda and water
  • gently dab on a solution that is 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 1 part water
  • ask your pharmacist about other over-the-counter medications, pastes, or mouthwash that may be helpful
  • If you see your healthcare provider for your mouth sores, they may prescribe pain medication, an anti-inflammatory drug, or steroid gel. If your mouth
  • sores are a result of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection, your healthcare provider might provide a medication to treat the infection.

In cases of mouth cancer, a biopsy will be taken first. Afterward, you may need surgery or chemotherapy.

Can mouth sores be prevented?

There is no absolute way to prevent all mouth sores. However, you can take specific steps to avoid getting them. You should try to:

  • avoid very hot foods and drinks
  • chew slowly
  • use a soft toothbrush and practice regular dental hygiene
  • see your dentist if any dental hardware or teeth may be irritating your mouth
  • decrease stress
  • eat a balanced diet
  • reduce or eliminate food irritants, such as hot, spicy foods
  • take vitamin supplements, especially B vitamins
  • drink plenty of water
  • don’t smoke or use tobacco
  • avoid or limit alcohol consumption
  • shade your lips when in the sun, or use SPF 15 lip balm

Are there any long-term effects of mouth sores?

In most cases, mouth sores have no long-term effects.

If you have herpes simplex, the sores may reappear. In some cases, severe cold sores can leave scarring. Outbreaks are more common if you:

  • are under stress
  • are ill or have a weakened immune system
  • have had too much sun exposure
  • have a break in the skin of your mouth
  • In cases of cancer, your long-term side effects and outlook depend on the type, severity, and treatment of your cancer.

Common Questions & Answers

What causes sores inside the mouth?

Canker Sores. No one knows what causes these small, painful blisters inside your mouth. Triggers include hypersensitivity, infection, hormones, stress, and not getting enough of some vitamins. Also called aphthous ulcers, canker sores can show up on the tongue, cheek, even your gums. They usually last a week or two.

How do you get rid of sores in your mouth?

Treatment options for mouth ulcers include:

  1. Avoid spicy and sour foods until the ulcers heal.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids.
  3. Regularly rinse your mouth out with warm, slightly salted water.
  4. Keep your mouth clean.
  5. Take pain-relieving medication, such as paracetamol.
  6. Apply antiseptic gel to the ulcers.

How long do mouth sores last?

Mouth sores often go away in 10 to 14 days, even if you do not do anything. They sometimes last up to 6 weeks. The following steps can make you feel better: Avoid hot beverages and foods, spicy and salty foods, and citrus.

What autoimmune disease causes mouth sores?

If you’re diagnosed with oral lichen planus, it is a chronic autoimmune disorder that has no known cause. The disorder, which causes mouth sores, is not contagious and is usually treated with topical numbing creams or, in more severe cases, corticosteroids such as prednisone, which reduces inflammation. IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s, and Celiac disease can all cause mouth sores.

What virus causes mouth sores?

Viruses are the most common infectious causes of mouth sores. Cold sores of the lip and, less commonly, ulcers on the palate caused by the herpes simplex virus are perhaps the most well known. These sores are the result of a flare-up of the virus, which, just like herpes simplex virus, never leaves the body.

Can stress cause mouth sores?

Other ulcers, such as mouth ulcers and peptic ulcers, may not be directly caused by stress. However, there’s some evidence that mental stress may aggravate them. Mouth ulcers may be particularly stressful and cause anxiety due to pain and its effects on talking, chewing, eating, and drinking.

Trusted Sources and Resources

17 Mouth & Tongue Problems: Pictures of Sores, Blisters

Canker sore – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Mouth sores: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

How to Get Rid of Canker Sores: 14 Treatment Options

Mouth ulcers: Types, causes, symptoms, and treatment

Mouth Sores and Pain – American Cancer Society

What are Mouth Sores? – American Dental Association

Mouth Sores: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention Methods

Medical Disclaimer

When in doubt, check it out

If you’re unsure of your health status, have multiple health problems or are pregnant, speak with your doctor before starting a new dental procedure. Working with your doctor ahead of time can help you plan the medical/dental treatment that’s right for you. And that’s a good first step on your path to oral health.

Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional medical advice or treatment because of something you have read on the Sherwood Dental website.

Reviewed By

Dr. Rakesh Patel B.Sc., DDS on April 1, 2020