Dental Care

Information about Sores in the Mouth

Many of us have had sores in the mouth at some point in our lives.

After all, about one third of the population gets them, although some people experience mouth sores and irritations more frequently than others.

You probably already realize they can be unsightly and painful. In fact, in some cases the pain is so severe it makes it difficult to eat or speak.

What you might not know is that people can get several different types of sores, irritations and related disorders in the mouth, including cold sores, canker sores, leukoplakia and candidiasis, a condition which is commonly called thrush.

Each of these conditions has a different appearance and is caused by something different. We will discuss cold sores and canker sores in a separate article, but in this article you'll find some helpful information about leukoplakia and oral thrush, or candidiasis.

Before we talk about these two specific conditions, however, we feel it's important to provide a word of warning about sores in the mouth in general. No matter what type it is, if you have any mouth sore or oral irritation that lasts longer than a week, have your dentist examine it.

Sores in the mouth that last more than a few days might indicate the presence of a much more serious condition such as HIV or oral cancer. Your dentist will examine your mouth sores and possibly run tests to rule out these conditions.

With that warning in mind, let us talk about the mouth sores known as leukoplakia and candidiasis.


Leukoplakia occurs on the inner cheek, gums or tongue as a thick, whitish-colored patch. These mouth sores frequently occur in people who smoke or use smokeless tobacco, but they can also be caused by dentures that fit poorly, a broken or chipped tooth, or chewing on the inner cheek.

It is possible for leukoplakia to become cancerous, and in fact experts estimate that about five percent of leukoplakia cases do. If you have these lesions, your dentist may do a biopsy to determine whether this progression has occurred.

The good news about leukoplakia is its tendency to heal after the circumstances that cause it are removed. This is true whether leukoplakia is caused by tobacco use, poorly-fitting dentures or a damaged tooth.

Treatment of these oral sores takes advantage of this tendency and begins with eliminating the causal factors. For some people this will mean they need to stop smoking or stop using smokeless tobacco.

When a broken, chipped or cracked tooth is causing a person's leukoplakia, the damaged tooth should be repaired promptly. If repair is impossible, the damaged tooth should be extracted. Similarly, the treatment for leukoplakia sores in the mouth due to improperly-fitting dentures is to replace them with dentures that fit properly.

Candidiasis (Oral Thrush)

Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by a specific yeast known as Candida albicans. You can identify a case of oral thrush by the appearance of the sores this condition creates in your mouth.

Typically, these mouth sores are creamy, yellow-white or reddish patches on moist surfaces inside the mouth. You might feel some pain when you touch one of these patches because the tissues beneath them are tender.

Candida albicans is an extremely common yeast, and it is completely normal for many people to harbor it. In fact, Candida albicans lives inside approximately 80% of the population. Under normal conditions the yeast causes no problems, but it can cause oral or genital infections in some people.

Thrush occurs most frequently in newborn infants, people who wear dentures, people with dry mouths, patients who are debilitated by some other disease, and people with suppressed or improperly functioning immune systems. Other people susceptible to candidiasis include those who are taking or have just completed a course of antibiotics or oral contraceptives.

Treatment of thrush involves controlling the conditions that cause the yeast outbreaks. For example, cleaning your dentures properly is essential to avoid experiencing denture-induced mouth sores due to thrush. Taking your dentures out at night can also help prevent it.

When oral contraceptives or antibiotics are causing the problem, reducing the dosage or trying a different drug sometimes helps. People who have unusually dry mouths can use saliva substitutes to create more moisture.

A special diet or anti-fungal medications can be used when the underlying cause of thrush is incurable or unresponsive to treatment, such as with some cases of HIV. These strategies will also clear up the infection when its cause cannot be avoided, as with age-related cases of thrush in newborn infants.

No matter what is causing your sores in the mouth, a good daily oral hygiene routine is essential.


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