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Mouth Sores 


Mouth sores are a common condition.  They can cause pain and discomfort.  Some develop inside of the mouth and others develop on the lips and skin surrounding the mouth.  There are several different types of mouth sores.  The most common types include canker sores, cold sores, leukoplakia, and candidiasis.  Your dentist can recommend treatments to relieve the symptoms of mouth sores.

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Canker sores occur inside of the mouth.  Canker sores look like small white swellings or sores.  The sores may be surrounded by redness.  They may hurt or cause mild discomfort.  The cause of canker sores is unknown.  Researchers suspect viruses, bacteria, or immune system problems cause them.  However, other factors including smoking, trauma, allergies, stress, nutritional deficiency, and heredity appear to contribute to the development of canker sores.  Additionally, people with certain gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, may be more prone to canker sores.  Canker sores are common and can reappear.  They are not contagious.
Cold sores are also called fever blisters or herpes simplex.  Cold sores appear on the outside of the mouth on the edges of the lips and the skin below the nose or below the lips.  They often occur in groups and appear as fluid-filled blisters.  Cold sores can be painful and unsightly.  Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex I virus.  Cold sore episodes may recur or once infected, a person may just carry the virus.  Cold sores are highly contagious.
Leukoplakia occurs inside of the mouth on the tongue, gums, cheeks, or lips.  It looks like a thick whitish-colored patch.  Leukoplakia results from excess cell growth.  It can result from irritants in the mouth including smoking, chewing tobacco, poor fitting dentures, broken teeth, or the habit of chewing on your cheek.  Because leukoplakia can lead to cancer, your dentist may take a biopsy (tissue sample) of the site for examination. 
Candidiasis is also called moniliasis or oral thrush.  It occurs inside of the mouth on the tongue, gums, cheeks, or lips.  Candidiasis looks like creamy white-yellow colored areas, red patches, or a combination of both.  The affected areas can be painful.  Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by yeast called Candida albicans.  It is common among denture wearers and newborns.  In some people, it may occur after treatment with certain antibiotics.  People with dry mouth are especially susceptible to the fungus.  Candidiasis can repeatedly affect people with immune system problems including HIV, AIDS, and cancer.

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Your dentist can diagnose mouth sores and determine which type you have.  You should tell your dentist about your medical history, risk factors, and symptoms.  Your dentist will examine the inside and outside of your mouth.

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Treatment depends on the type of mouth sore that you have.  Canker sores usually heal on their own in one to two weeks.  Over-the-counter medications and rinses can provide pain relief.  You should avoid hot, spicy, or acidic foods that cause irritation.

Cold sores usually heal in about a week.  There is no cure for herpes simplex I.  Over-the-counter medications can provide symptom relief.  Your dentist or doctor can prescribe antiviral medications that may help reduce the outbreaks.

Leukoplakia is treated by removing the irritant that causes the lesions.  You may need to stop smoking or get new dentures.  Your dentist will monitor the affected site and take a biopsy if necessary.

Candidiasis is treated by removing or controlling the causative factors.  You should brush and floss your teeth according to your dentist’s instructions.  Clean your dentures thoroughly.  Do not wear dentures at night.  If you have dry mouth, saliva substitutes can help.  If your candidiasis is caused by a side effect from prescription medication or an underlying medical condition, talk to your dentist or doctor about treatments to combat the condition and relieve your symptoms.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit