Different types of sores can appear anywhere in the mouth. Some of the places mouth sores can occur are:
Mouth sores may be caused by irritation from:
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus . They are very contagious. Usually, you will have tenderness, tingling, or burning before the actual sore appears. Cold sores usually begin as blisters and then crust over. The herpes virus can live in your body for years. It only appears as a mouth sore when something triggers it, such as:
Canker sores are not contagious. They may look like a pale or yellow ulcer with a red outer ring. You may have one, or a group of them. Women seem to get them more than men. The cause of canker sores is not clear. It may be due to:
Less commonly, mouth sores can be a sign of an illness, tumor, or reaction to a medication. This can include:
Drugs that may cause mouth sores include aspirin, beta-blockers, chemotherapy medicines, penicillamine, sulfa drugs, and phenytoin.
Mouth sores often go away in 10 to 14 days, even if you don't do anything. They sometimes last up to 6 weeks. The following steps can make you feel better:
For canker sores:
Over-the-counter medications, such as Orabase, can protect a sore inside the lip and on the gums. Blistex or Campho-Phenique may provide some relief of canker sores and fever blisters, especially if applied when the sore first appears.
To help cold sores or fever blisters, you can also apply ice to the sore.
Call your doctor if:
The doctor or nurse will examine you, and closely check your mouth and tongue. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms.
Treatment may include:
You may reduce your chance of getting common mouth sores by:
If you seem to get canker sores often, talk to your doctor about taking folate and vitamin B12 to prevent outbreaks.
To prevent cancer of the mouth:
Daniels TE. Diseases of the mouth and salivary glands. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 433.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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