Sores are uncomfortable and unfortunately, many varieties can occur in or around the mouth. Most of these sores are benign, but some may be indicative of cancer.
Canker sores are the small, creamy white ulcers with a red border that sometimes appear inside your mouth. They can be painful, but they are not contagious and will usually heal in one-to-two weeks. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter topical treatments can help lessen any pain that might accompany them.
Cold sores, or fever blisters as they are also known, are fluid-filled blisters that form on the lips or around the mouth. They are typically caused by the herpes simplex virus and are both contagious and painful. There are a number of reasons cold sores may appear, like fever, sunburn, trauma, hormonal changes or emotional upset. Lamentably there is currently no cure for cold sores, however there are prescription ointments available to help reduce the pain and discomfort. Since cold sores are contagious, it is important to frequently wash your hands and keep from sharing any personal products to help prevent the spread of the infection to other people.
Also known as oral thrush, candidiasis is a mouth sore caused by a fungal infection. Those suffering from candidiasis will experience painful red and cream-colored patches on the moist areas of their mouths and will have difficulty swallowing and tasting. Oral thrush is common for denture wearers or people who have problems with their immune systems. Candidiasis can sometimes occur as a result of an unrelated antibiotic treatment, which can decrease normal bacterial development in the mouth. Treatments for candidiasis include saliva substitutes and antifungal creams.
Those who have chronic irritations, like cheek-chewing, dentures or braces may begin to notice white patches on the inside of their mouth. These patches are a result of mouth irritations, though they are typically benign. Treatment for white patches is to alleviate the irritation and allow for natural healing.
Leukoplakias consist of thick, white lesions commonly formed beneath or around the tongue, cheeks or gums. Leukoplakias are painless but can become cancerous over time. These mouth sores are most often seen in tobacco users. To diagnose leukoplakias, a biopsy may be needed.
Oral cancers appear as red or white patches of mouth tissue or small ulcers. Typically, oral cancers form on the tongue or floor of the mouth but they can occur on any tissue in and around the mouth. This includes cancers of the tonsils, adenoids, uvula (soft palate), roof of the mouth (hard palate), inside the lining of the cheeks, the gums, teeth, lips, the area behind the wisdom teeth and salivary glands. Some of these lesions may be benign, others may be malignant, but still, some are precancerous. The most common type of precancerous cells in the mouth are:
- Leukoplakias: Leukoplakias consist of thick, white lesions that most commonly form beneath or around the tongue, cheeks or gums. Those who use tobacco are most susceptible to these kinds of sores
- Erythroplakias: These lesions appear as a red, raised area in the mouth and have a higher incidence of becoming malignant than leukoplakias.
A biopsy is often needed to diagnose leukoplakias and erythroplakias.
Squamous cell carcinomas are the most common type of oral cancer. Less common are lymphoma and salivary gland cancers. Most oral cancers occur in people age 45 and older. When cancers of the mouth do metastasize, they are most likely to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
If you are experiencing a mouth sore that won't heal, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists.