Mouth sores can be painful, embarrassing and annoying. Not all mouth sores are the same, however. Learning about the causes can enable a person to find relief or prevent them in the first place.
There are a few main types of mouth sores, of which canker sores and fever sores may be the most familiar.
Canker sores are common mouth ulcers that manifest in a white or yellow sores inside of the mouth. They can form on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, the underside of lips, or on the soft palate of the mouth. Also known as aphthous ulcers, canker sores can form for a number of reasons. Stress or immune system response can bring them on. Irritation or mouth injury also can contribute to canker sores.
Canker sores are not caused by viruses or bacteria; therefore, they are not contagious. They are also relatively harmless unless they become infected. Because they are an open sore, they can be a gateway for germs to enter the body. If a canker sore has not healed in around two weeks, a doctor should be consulted. That's because the first sign of oral cancer is a mouth sore that does not heal. Therefore, a cancerous mouth sore may inadvertently be mistaken as a canker sore and overlooked.
Treatment for canker sores generally focuses on reducing pain. Topical analgesics may be used. For those who find braces or dental appliances cause canker sores, an oral wax to cover areas that rub the mouth or adjustments may be needed.
Fever sores, also known as fever blisters, are fluid-filled blisters that form on the lips, roof of the mouth and gums. They may last 7 to 10 days, at which point they may rupture and crust over.
Unlike canker sores, fever sores are caused by a virus that becomes active. They are the result of the herpes simplex virus, the same virus that is responsible for genital herpes, though the mouth sores are usually from HSV-1 and not HSV-2, the common cause for genital herpes. As many as 90 percent of American adults has been exposed to the HSV-1 virus, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The virus lies dormant but can be activated by conditions such as fever, trauma, hormonal changes, exposure to sunlight and stress.
Fever sores are contagious and can be acquired through sharing drinks straws or by kissing. They are often treated with an antiviral agent and a protective barrier ointment. Do not squeeze the blisters, and wash hands after touching a blister. The virus can be spread to the eyes or the genital area upon contact with these areas of the body.
Leukoplakia is a condition caused by excess cell growth in the mouth. It can form on the cheeks, gums or tongue. It is generally found in tobacco users or those with ill-fitting dentures that cause irritation. This condition can progress to cancer and should be monitored by a doctor or dentist.
Oral cancer can manifest itself in a number of ways, including sores that do not heal over time. It also may be identified by rough spots, crusts, bumps, lumps, swellings, or other unusual things on the lips, gums or inside the mouth. Unexplained bleeding of the mouth may also indicate oral cancer.
Because oral cancer may often be mistaken for trivial mouth issues, anything suspicious should be brought to the attention of a dentist or doctor. Individuals with a family history of cancer, those who smoke or use other tobacco products or consume alcohol excessively should be regularly screened for oral cancer.