It is not unusual to have a problem with your
mouth from time to time. A mouth problem can involve
your gums, lips, tongue, or inner cheeks, the roof of your mouth (soft and hard
palates), under your tongue, your neck, or your teeth. Your mouth may be dry,
or food may not taste right. You may have bad breath or a sore on your lip,
gums, or tongue that makes it hard to eat or talk. Many of these problems can
get better with home treatment.
Common mouth problems
Sores, such as
cold sores (also called fever blisters) and
canker sores. Canker sores develop inside the mouth, while
cold sores and impetigo usually affect the area around the outside of the
Tender, red splits or
cracks at the corner of your mouth (angular cheilitis), which can be caused by infection, a diet too low in
vitamins, and over-closure of the mouth in someone who has been without teeth
or dentures for some time.
Chapped lips, which may be caused by
dry, windy, cold, or very hot weather.
(xerostomia). A common cause of dry mouth is
dehydration. Over time, having a dry mouth increases
your risk of mouth infections, gum disease, and dental
Thick, hard white patches inside the mouth that cannot be
wiped off (leukoplakia). This is commonly caused by irritation of the mouth,
such as from a rough tooth or poorly fitting denture rubbing against tissue or
from smoking or using smokeless (spit) tobacco.
a common infection of the mouth and tongue caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Thrush appears on the mouth and tongue as
white patches that look like cottage cheese or milk curds. When the patches are
wiped away, the underlying area appears red and raw and may bleed. In babies,
thrush may cause a rash in the diaper area.
Taste changes. Your sense of taste may be
decreased, lost, or changed, such as a
metallic taste in your mouth.
tongue may become sore or swollen, or it may change
color or texture. A buildup of food and bacteria on the tongue may make the
tongue look thick or furry ("hairy tongue"). Often the problems will
go away if the surface of the tongue is regularly brushed with a soft-bristled
toothbrush. If your tongue problem is from some local irritation, such as
tobacco use, removing the source of the irritation may clear up the tongue
problem. Rapid swelling of the tongue can be caused by an
allergic reaction, which can interfere with breathing.
Bad breath (halitosis) or changed breath can be an embarrassing problem.
Make sure that you brush your teeth twice each day and floss once a day to
decrease the bacteria that can cause bad breath. Brushing your tongue can also
The use of alcohol and
tobacco can cause many mouth problems. Your chances of
oral cancer are increased if you smoke, use smokeless
(spit) tobacco, or use alcohol excessively.
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Mouth problems are common and can
be very annoying. But most mouth problems are minor and will clear up with home
treatment and time. Simple home treatment measures, such as increasing your
fluid intake to prevent dehydration and using a humidifier inside your home,
can relieve many mouth problems. Try home treatment when you have one of the
following mouth problems:
Chapped lips. Avoid licking or biting your lips.
Protect your lips with lipstick or a lip balm, such as a water-based product.
If your lips are severely chapped, build a barrier by applying petroleum jelly,
such as Vaseline, for a short time and then switch to a water-based product.
Avoid sun or wind exposure. Using a humidifier in your home may
A dry mouth. Avoid caffeinated beverages, tobacco, and
alcohol, all of which increase dryness in your mouth.
Bad breath, a
bad taste in your mouth, a
black or coated tongue, or "hairy tongue." You
can freshen your breath by brushing your teeth, tongue, roof of your mouth, and
gums. Sometimes just rinsing your mouth with fresh water will freshen your
breath and make your mouth taste better.
Sore or ulcer inside your mouth
Changes in your diet
can also help if you have a sore or ulcer inside your mouth, such as a
Drink cold liquids, such as water or iced tea,
or eat flavored ice pops or frozen juices. Use a straw to keep the liquid from coming
in contact with your mouth sore.
Eat soft, bland foods that are
easy to swallow, such as ice cream, custard, applesauce, cottage cheese,
macaroni and cheese, soft-cooked eggs, yogurt, or cream soups.
foods into small pieces, or grind, mash, blend, or puree
Avoid coffee, chocolate, spicy and salty foods, citrus
fruits, nuts, seeds, and tomatoes.
If you have a
painful sore on the outside of your lip, apply ice to
the area when you first feel a sore coming on (tingling or prickly feeling at
the site). This may help reduce the pain and dry out the sore. Apply the ice
directly to the sore—5 minutes on, 10 minutes off—repeating as
Rinse with an antacid, such as Maalox or Mylanta, or dab
it on your sores with a cotton swab.
Avoid very hot, cold, or sweet
foods and drinks if they increase your pain.
Apply petroleum jelly,
such as Vaseline, to ease the cracking and dryness of a lip
Use a lip protector, such as Blistex or Campho-Phenique, to
ease the pain. Don't share your lip protector with others, because cold sores
Puncture a vitamin E capsule and squeeze the
oil onto the sore. This soothes inflammation and protects the sore.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
persist or become more severe or frequent.
Many mouth problems can be prevented. Try
some of the following home prevention measures to prevent:
Cold sores. Avoid direct physical
contact with people who have a cold sore. Remember, cold sores are caused by a
contagious virus (herpes type 1). Children often become
infected by contact with parents, siblings, or other close relatives who have
Canker sores. Avoid injury to the
inside of the mouth and foods that can trigger a canker sore.
Bad breath. Practice good dental care: Brush your teeth twice each day, and
floss once a day.
Dry mouth. Make sure you are drinking
enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Hard candies can increase saliva and help
prevent problems with a dry mouth.
Tobacco can cause mouth problems. Do not smoke or use
other tobacco products. For more information, see the topic
Avoid alcohol, which can
cause a dry mouth and bad breath and can increase your risk of canker sores.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.