There are different types of mouth sores. They can occur anywhere in the mouth including:
Mouth sores may be caused by irritation from:
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus . They are very contagious. Often, 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.
Acyclovir cream 5% can also be used help reduce the duration of the cold sore.
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:
Aphthous stomatitis; Herpes simplex; Cold sores
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: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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