Should I be concerned about a mouth sore?

Girl holding mouth with concerned look
There are different kinds of mouth sores, most of which can be treated effectively at home.

Inflammation of the mucous membrane in and around the mouth is known as stomatitis, and can present itself in various ways. Although mouth sores that develop can range from mildly irritating to incredibly painful, they will typically heal themselves within a few weeks. Regardless, most people want to minimize the symptoms as quickly as possible as an open sore on the inside of the mouth affects how you eat and speak and how well you sleep. Let’s take a look at the three main types of stomatitis and what you can do to find relief.

Canker sores

Surprisingly, there is no known definitive cause of canker sores. Genetics and the state of your immune system are believed to play a role, but a solid explanation has yet to be discovered. Fortunately, canker sores (formally known as aphthous stomatitis) are not contagious and normally heal themselves within 2 weeks, but severe sores can last up to 6 weeks. Large canker sores can actually leave scarring, but the smaller ones tend to be more common. They typically develop on the inside of the lips and cheek, but can also appear on the tongue. Many people find that they develop numerous small canker sores all at once, while others may just have one at a time. Because canker sores will heal on their own, finding the best method of pain relief is the way to go as you wait out the healing process. Foods that are heavily spiced will definitely aggravate the pain, so try to stick to mild food until the canker sores are gone. An anti-inflammatory medicine can also help reduce the swelling. If you have a large sore that does not seem to be healing, see a medical professional as a prescription might be necessary.

Oral thrush

The overgrowth of the candida fungus on the mouth’s mucous membrane results is a condition called oral thrush, which is a type of yeast infection. Candida is always present in the mouth in small amounts, but can be produced in excess when certain factors are at play. Those with lower immune systems are more at risk, such as infants, older adults, diabetics, or those who have cancer. Smokers are also at risk as the habit is detrimental to the mucous membrane in the mouth, making it easier for candida to thrive. Lastly, denture-wearers are especially vulnerable because the fungus can build up under the dentures. Regularly cleaning your dentures and removing them at night to soak are crucial steps in preventing oral thrush from developing. White lesions inside the mouth, typically on the cheeks or tongue, are a common sign of thrush, but other indicators can be present as well, such as bad breath, a sore throat, and red patches at the corners of the lips. If you are a healthy adult without any other conditions, oral thrush will normally clear up on its own as long as you are keeping your mouth clean by practicing good oral hygiene. But if you see symptoms of thrush and your body is already in poor health, or if you are concerned that your infant might have it, it’s important to see your doctor right away. When the immune system is not fully-functioning, mild thrush can quickly cause infection in other parts of the body.

Cold sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus is highly contagious, most often passed through saliva, and is typically contracted at a very young age. Children aged from 6 months to 5 years are the most vulnerable, and once a child has the herpes virus, it is present for life, as there is no way to expel it from the body. Because symptoms may not show up for a long time, someone can carry the virus without knowing it. When there is an outbreak, cold sores are often the only indicator, but not always. In some cases there may be fever (which is why cold sores are often called fever blisters), and gum inflammation. An outbreak will normally heal in 2 weeks time or less, and while the virus cannot be cured, the symptoms can be controlled with medication and good oral hygiene. If your child has acquired herpes simplex, they may not have any symptoms at all or the outbreaks might be frequent. Learning how to manage the condition is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading when you or your child is exhibiting symptoms.

Mouth sores are extremely common and in a healthy adult, are virtually harmless. The concern is always for those with low immune systems whose bodies cannot adequately fight infection. The sores may be an symptom of a deeper problem at work, so if you find that healing is taking longer than expected, it’s wise to see a medical professional to find out why your immune system is not fighting back. As always, maintaining a great oral health regimen should be the first line of attack in treating mouth sores, as inflammation will always slow down healing time. Whether the sore in your mouth was preventable or not, keeping your mouth clean will ease the symptoms and quicken recovery time.