What Is That Mouth Sore?

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What Is That Mouth Sore?

15 November 2016
 Categories: Dentist, Articles

Developing a sore in or around your mouth can be uncomfortable and frustrating. In order to deal with a mouth sore, you first need to narrow down what type of sore it is. There are three common types: cold sores, canker sores, and leukoplakia. Here are some tips to help you distinguish between the various types of mouth sores and treat them effectively.

Cold Sores

Cold sores typically appear around the lips rather than inside the mouth. They tend to appear quite suddenly, often when you also have a cold or the flu. Cold sores are typically painful; they may sting when you touch them or when you sip juice or soda. They look like blisters initially, and then once they burst, they take on a scabby appearance. The area around the sore itself is typically red and inflamed.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type I, otherwise known as the oral herpes virus. Once you are infected with the virus, it stays in your body for the rest of your life, and you may be prone to cold sores from time to time. Some patients experience cold sores once a month or more, while others only have a couple throughout their lives.

Most cold sores go away on their own within a week or so. However, your dentist can give you some numbing cream to apply to the sore if it's bothering you. If you are very prone to cold sores, your dentist or doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to protect you against future breakouts and reduce your chances of spreading the herpes virus to others.

Canker Sores

If the sores are inside your mouth, then they're probably canker sores rather than cold sores. They typically look like white spots on your cheek or gums, and if you look closely, you'll realize that they are like pits or depressions in the tissue. Canker sores are not caused by the herpes virus. However, they do have a number of potential causes:

  • Trauma that occurs when you hit your mouth or bite your cheek.
  • Braces or another orthodontic device rubbing your mouth.
  • Stress and immune system deficiencies.

Avoiding sour and acidic foods will help ease the pain of your canker sore. Rinsing your mouth with salt water or applying some clove oil to the area may also help. If you have a stubborn canker sore that does not go away in a week or so, your dentist may use laser therapy to speed healing. This is a simple, painless treatment that only takes a few minutes and should cause your sore to heal within 2 days.


Are the sores thick, raised, white patches on the insides of your cheeks and gums? Maybe they even have a "hairy" or "fuzzy" look. These lesions are known as leukoplakia. They can be caused by any number of things, from smoking tobacco to oral cancer. If you have leukoplakia, it's important to see your dentist for a diagnosis. They will take a sample of the affected tissue and ensure you are not suffering from oral cancer. Most people with leukoplakia do not, in fact, have cancer, but it's important to rule out this possibility.

Sometimes leukoplakia patches are caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth -- a condition known as thrush. If this is the case, your dentist may recommend taking probiotics to help boost your levels of helpful bacteria and fight off the yeast infection. Leukoplakia can also be a sign of an HIV infection. If diagnosed, you'll be prescribed antiviral medications to keep this and other symptoms under control.

If you have a mouth sore and are not sure which of these categories it falls into, speak with your dentist. It's important not to ignore a sore -- just in case it happens to be a sign of something more serious.