Mouth Sores: Causes, Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Mouth sores are extremely common and are likely to be experienced by most people at some point in their lives.

Mouth sores can occur in any part of the mouth, including the cheeks, tongue, lips, gum line, the roof of your mouth or even the upper part of your throat (which is considered a part of your mouth).

Regardless of the location or cause of the mouth sore, one universal truth is that it is always painful. Unknown to most people, however, is the fact that they are many different types or causes of mouth sores, and the fact that treatment is often only mildly effective at best.

Types of Mouth Sores

There are actually several different types of mouth sores, which typically occur as a result of underlying disease or medical conditions. Common types include:

Canker Sores

By far, canker sores are the most common type of mouth sores that occur, and often times for no reason and with no clearly identifiable cause.

Canker sores typically occur under periods of high stress, based on observations and anecdotal reports, cause acute pain that make eating and brushing difficult but are self-limiting and usually resolves in about seven days.

To make matters worse, canker sores may appear in clusters, or one following the other as soon as one has healed.

Cold Sores

Cold sores are primarily attributed to herpes breakouts, appear mainly on the lips, and may form blisters or appear very inflamed.

However, cold sores also occur in the absence of herpes, such as following recovery from viral infections, or along with other flu-like symptoms.

Cold sores may also develop a fluid-filled blister which later bursts, and may occur with fever or swollen lymph nodes.


These sores usually occur in children around the age that they begin to lose teeth, and can be found at the location of the gum line. Their appearance often resembles canker sores, though often times they usually occur in conjunction with flulike symptoms.

Children that experience these sores may also display loss of appetite or visible discomfort when eating, as they are unable to cope with the pain.

Causes of Mouth Sores

There are several causes of mouth sores, some of which are accidental, while orders can be serious and quickly become life-threatening. These include:

Accidental Trauma

Have you ever accidentally bitten your lip or cheek while chewing? This seemingly innocuous accident can easily result in the development of a mouth sore, causing you pain for many days.

Damage can also occur as a result of irritation from dentures, braces or even usage of a firm toothbrush.

Herpes Simplex Virus

The herpes simplex virus causes the development of cold sores, primarily on the lips. These sores appear red and inflamed and may ooze or crust.

Immune System Suppression

Canker sores occur more frequently in individuals under a lot of stress or whose immune systems are suppressed following a period of illness. The hormone cortisol also contributes to immune suppression, with many people reporting canker sores coinciding with high pressure and low-sleep scenarios.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Mouth sores may also occur as a result of nutritional deficiencies, especially when it comes to protein or one of the B vitamins. Deficiency of vitamin C can also contribute to the development of scurvy, a disease that causes ulcers and bleeding from a number of mucous membranes, in this case, the gums and cheeks.

Intestinal Disease

These include acid reflux or conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.


Oral thrush is most common in children but also occurs in adults with compromised immune systems. It is caused by the fungi Candida albicans and appears as a white film covering the tongue, gums or cheeks. Lesions may also develop as a result of inflammatory damage caused by the fungi.


Use of certain over-the-counter or prescription medication can increase the risk of mouth sores developing, as a result of immune system suppression, compromising the integrity of mucous membranes, or as a result of their harsh action on killing cells indiscriminately.

Autoimmune Disorders

Many conditions such as lupus, psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis contribute to suppression of the immune system or overstimulation to the degree that the body loses its primary defense mechanism. Probiotic bacteria living in the intestines may also have their cultures significantly reduced, paving the way for pathogens to cause further infection.

Symptoms of Mouth Sores

Mouth sores may present symptoms that are visibly defined, and others that are not expected. These include:

Visible Ulceration At The Location Of The Cheeks, Lips Or Gum Line.

Many types of mouth sores cause erosion of the mucous membranes in the mouth, resulting in an inflamed lesion that appears whitish or red in color.

Pain When Eating, Drinking Or Brushing Teeth

The inflamed mouth ulcers are very painful and sensitive to stimuli, whether that be in the form of hot or cold liquids, physical contact, or from the act of chewing.

Flulike Symptoms

Certain manifestations of mouth sores may occur along with symptoms resembling the flu, fever or inflamed lymph nodes.

Canker sores do not usually occur in conjunction with these other symptoms, so if you notice them it is a good idea to seek medical attention.

Treatment of Mouth Sores

Most people that develop mouth sores will not require medical attention, which is considering that seven out of 10 cases are canker sores.

However, should more serious manifestations of sores occur, it is important to address the underlying condition.

Common treatment approaches include:

Nutritional Supplementation

Owing to the fact that certain types of mouth sores are caused by nutritional deficiency, supplementation in the form of B vitamins, vitamin C or protein can go a far way in preventing subsequent sores.

Good Oral Hygiene

While oral hygiene has never been definitely associated with mouth sores, it never hurts to step it up a notch. For instance, canker sores are believed to take longer to heal if bacterial infection occurs.

Regularly rinsing the mount in order to reduce bacterial density is believed to help with the healing process, so don’t be afraid to spruce things up.

Avoid Alcohol And Tobacco Use

Both of these recreational substances contribute to the development of mouth sores and are associated with increased frequency of canker sores occurring.

Manage Medical Conditions

In the case of herpes infection, application of prescription antiviral medication or consumption of oral medication can help accelerate recovery from flare-ups. In like manner, managing inflammatory diseases could also decrease the likelihood of mouth sores occurring.

Mouth Sores – Summary

Mouth sores are often times just annoying but may require no significant intervention on your part. If your sores are attributed to a specific medical diagnosis, be sure to follow the advice of your healthcare professional to manage it, in an effort to avoid complications that may occur.


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