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What are the Different Causes of Mouth Sores?

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  • Written By: Kathy Heydasch
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A mouth sore is defined as any kind of lesion, laceration or ulcer inside, outside or near the mouth. There are literally hundreds of causes of mouth sores, from mild irritation or viruses to serious infections or diseases. Mouth sores can affect people of any age or population.

Canker sores are the most common and the most harmless form of mouth sore, and can be caused by anything from vitamin deficiencies to stress. They are ulcers on the inside of the mouth, and usually go away within a few days, even without any treatment. Another mostly harmless mouth sore is caused by trauma to the mouth or gums, like excessive brushing or accidentally biting one’s lip. Gingivitis or periodontal disease which is left untreated can also be one of the causes of mouth sores.

Some viruses manifest themselves with lesions on the body, especially on the lips and around the outside of the mouth. The herpes simplex virus is a common example, and outbreaks of this virus usually result in cold sores, also known as fever blisters, outside the mouth. As much as 80% of the population carries the virus known as herpes type 1.

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Fungal infections can also be one of the causes of mouth sores, and oral thrush is perhaps the most common. It is caused by an infection of yeast fungi, and mostly manifests in infants and small children. Oral thrush is also called oral candidiasis, and it results in a white or off-white deposit in the mouth or on the tongue. Oral thrush can be scraped off, often resulting in abrasions inside the mouth and possible bleeding.

Certain types of medication, especially chemotherapy drugs, are known to be one of the causes of mouth sores. The condition might persist as long as a person is taking a certain medicine. In such a case, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks since the mouth sores are mostly harmless. Still other causes of mouth sores include more serious disease, like oral cancer or leukoplakia.

Mouth sores are often left untreated because they are typically intermittent and go away on their own, so most people do not seek medical care. Doctors, upon full examination of the patient, can usually diagnose the causes of mouth sores and recommend treatment if possible. This might include a change in diet or the addition of dietary supplements. In the case of herpes simplex, there is no cure, but some medicines can reduce the severity of outbreaks. In severe cases of mouth sores, they could serve as a precursor to a diagnosis of a more serious illness.

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