Everything You Need to Know About Mouth Sores

Tooth Pain Cavity

Stomatitis is the technical term for soreness and inflammation in the mouth, whether on the cheeks, gums, tongue, palate, or lips. There are three general types of stomatitis that cause pain and irritation for dental patients: canker sores, cold sores, and mouth irritation.

Cold Sores

Cold sores (a.k.a. fever blisters) are found on or around the lips. They are fluid-filled bumps initially, but later scab over. They can cause tingling, tenderness, burning, or other irritation. They are usually gone within seven to ten days, and can present alongside cold or flu symptoms.


Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus. They are contagious from when they appear until completely healed. Once a person has contracted the virus, it stays in the body permanently. Cold sores may reappear when the immune system is stressed, such as during times of trauma, stress, hormonal changes, fever, and even sun exposure.


Cold sores can’t be cured, but they can be treated by 

  • Applying ice to the sore
  • Applying ointments/antiviral agents
  • Taking valacyclovir at the sign of an attack

Canker Sores

Canker sores (a.k.a. apthous ulcers) are pale or yellow ulcers circled by a red ring. They are generally found on the tongue, inside the lip, or on the insides of the cheeks. These sores can be painful and last between five to ten days. They aren’t associated with fever or other symptoms, but do tend to recur.


Canker sores have no specific, definitive cause, but can be the result of trauma to the mouth, certain medications, poor nutrition, bacteria or viruses, stress, lack of sleep, or certain foods. They can also be caused by hormonal changes, reduced immune systems or low vitamin levels. Women are more likely to experience canker sores than men.


Canker sores can be treated by 

  • Practicing good oral hygiene
  • Gargling with salt water
  • Drinking more water
  • Applying a topical anesthetic
  • Applying a (oral-safe) topical corticosteroid

General Mouth Irritation

Not all sores in the mouth are either canker sores or cold sores. Sores can appear in the mouth due to trauma, such as biting the tongue/cheek/lip, irritation from orthodontia and braces, or chipped and broken teeth, as well as sensitivity to certain foods and drinks, gum disease, chewing tobacco, and some medications and treatments.


Depending on the cause and nature of the sore, treatment and prevention of irritation may vary. Some general strategies for easing the pain of irritation include

  • Taking OTC pain relievers
  • Avoiding hot, spicy, salty, and acidic foods and drinks
  • Gargling with cool water


If you’re concerned about sores or any other oral health issue, schedule an appointment to see Dr. Mogren.

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