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Your oral health is not limited to your teeth. Sores or irritations can also develop in and around your mouth. Fortunately, they usually heal on their own within a week or two. Although several types of soft-tissue disturbances can affect the mouth, we will be discussing four common ones: canker sores, cold sores, leukoplakia and oral candidiasis.
Canker Sores – Canker sores develop inside the mouth as small white or gray sores that have a red border. They are not contagious. They may occur as one sore or several. In some cases, the cause is unknown, but trauma to oral soft tissues is a common cause of canker sores. Canker sores usually heal on their own after one or two weeks. They are painful, but over-the-counter topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouth rinses may provide temporary relief. Avoid spicy, salty or acidic foods, such as citrus fruits or juices, as they can irritate the sore.
Cold sores – Also called known as fever blisters, they appear as clusters of red, raised blisters outside the mouth, typically around the lips, although they can develop under the nose or around the chin. The blisters are filled with fluid and can break open, allowing the fluid to leak out. They then can scab over until they heal. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. The initial infection with the herpes virus can be accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms and can cause painful oral lesions. There is no cure for the herpes virus; once you are infected, the virus stays in the body and causes occasional flare-ups associated with the cold sores. Cold sore blisters usually heal by themselves in about one week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some pain relief. Your dentist may prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce the healing time for these sores.
Leukoplakia – Leukoplakia is an overgrowth of cells that results in a rough patch of whitish tissue. It can develop anywhere in your mouth. These patches typically are not painful and are not contagious. They can result from irritations such as ill-fitting dentures or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Leukoplakia also occurs among tobacco users. Treatment begins with identifying the source of the irritation. Once the irritant is removed—which may mean giving up tobacco—the patches should disappear. Sometimes, leukoplakia is associated with oral cancer, so it’s important to see your dentist if you notice any of these patches developing. Your dentist may recommend a biopsy if the patch appears suspicious.
Candidiasis – Also referred to as an oral thrush, candidiasis is a yeast infection that develops on the soft, moist tissues inside your mouth. It appears as a smooth, white patch with a red base, which can be sore or can bleed. Candidiasis is caused by a fungus and typically develops when the immune system is weakened. People who are in poor health, the very old or very young, and people with systemic diseases such as diabetes are at risk of developing oral candidiasis. Some medications, such as steroids or cancer therapies, may increase the risk of developing this infection. Antibiotics also increase the risk of developing infection because they can alter the normal balance of bacteria in the mouth.
Treatment consists of controlling the conditions that caused the outbreak. Because candidiasis is common among denture wearers, a thorough daily cleaning of one’s dentures is important. Removing dentures at night also allows the denture-bearing tissues to regenerate.
Do not hesitate to talk with your dentist if you develop any sore or irritation inside or around your mouth, especially if it does not heal within a week or two. It is important that the lesion is examined closely so that an accurate prescription medication or treatment can be provided.