Is the Roof of Your Mouth Painful or Sore?
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If you are experiencing pain or soreness on the roof of your mouth, this could be due to inflammation from infection or an allergic reaction. Pain can also occur from irritants like smoking, dental trauma, or eating certain foods. Read below for more information on other causes and treatment options.
Symptoms of a sore roof of the mouth
Pain in the roof of the mouth can make daily activities such as eating and talking difficult. Unless you know you gulped down some hot coffee this morning, this pain can signal an underlying infection or systemic condition that requires medical attention.
Common characteristics of pain in the roof of the mouth
The roof of the mouth is not a highly visible area. Even if you can't see any warnings, you may experience the following.
- A more tender area, like a sore or a lesion
- Multiple sores or spots in the mouth
- Erythema (redness) of the mouth mucosa
Common accompanying symptoms
Pain in the roof of the mouth can present with a variety of other symptoms, such as the following.
- Burning or tingling
- Skin sensitivity
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
What causes the roof of the mouth to be sore and swollen?
Pain in the roof of the mouth is most often inflammatory in nature. Inflammation can occur from systemic diseases or environmental triggers that irritate the mucosal lining of the mouth. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
The mouth helps defend against different pathogens and toxic substances, and as a result, it is susceptible to inflammation from a variety of pathogens and different causes.
- Infectious: Bacterial infections can present with painful sores that appear in the mouth, especially of the soft or hard palate. There are also fungi that commonly infect warm, damp areas of the body such as the mouth. Painful spots due to fungi can range from red and patchy to creamy and white.
- Allergy: Drug reactions can be a life-threatening cause of pain in the roof of the mouth that require immediate attention. Many drugs used for conditions such as infections, epilepsy, and even mood disorders can trigger painful skin and mucosal reactions.
- Autoimmune: Systemic autoimmune conditions that affect multiple body parts, such as inflammatory bowel disease and lupus, often present with symptoms that affect the mouth.
Food and liquids often contact the mouth first. You may experience irritation or an allergic reaction that affects the roof of the mouth more severely.
- Irritants: Tobacco and alcohol are serious irritants to the body. They can cause significant irritation of the mouth and even cause some types of cancer. Tobacco and alcohol can cause excess cell growth in the mucosal lining of the mouth due to chronic irritation and dehydration and result in painful sores in the roof of the mouth.
- Trauma: The most common causes of mouth ulcers are due to trauma. Trauma includes a direct injury, such as a blow or a fall to the face or mouth, but trauma can also occur from ill-fitting dentures, loose fillings, and even braces.
- Diet: Different types of food can trigger the development of painful sores or lesions in the roof of the mouth. Foods that cause this include spicy or acidic foods like oranges, eggs, strawberries, and even chocolate. Diets that lack nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate, or iron can also result in pain localized to the roof of the mouth.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A cold sore is a skin lesion on the lips caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores are extremely common. In fact, most adults are infected with HSV, usually transmitted in childhood by normal close contact with parents, siblings or friends.
While the infection can be entirely unnoti..
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums. It is typically caused by poor dental hygiene and the buildup of bacteria. Its hallmark symptoms are swollen, discolored, bleeding gums. The main risk factors for the development of the disease are increasing age, smoking, and dry mouth. It is both treatable and ..
Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This typically happens early in childhood.
Top Symptoms: fever, gum pain, painful mouth sore, gum swelling, gum redness
Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes: gum pain
Melanoma of the mouth
Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck (MMHN) is a rare cancer that is approximately 10% of melanomas arising in the head and neck and approximately 1% of all malignant melanomas. It is more common in an elderly population and has a poor prognosis.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: gum pain, gum swelling, brown-colored skin changes, black-colored skin changes, mouth rash resembling an amalgam tattoo
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Burning mouth syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a chronic pain syndrome defined as having a burning pain or sensation in your mouth without a cause that can be found. It happens way more often in women (7 times more likely), typically during times of hormonal changes (just before or during menopause). While no one has identified the cause, it could have to do with the makeup of saliva, damage from dentures, tics or teeth grinding, infections, and even autoimmune diseases.
Top Symptoms: dry mouth, changed sense of taste, tongue pain, burning sensation in the mouth, moderate mouth pain
Symptoms that always occur with burning mouth syndrome: burning sensation in the mouth, tongue pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (anug)
Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) is a relatively rare infection of the gums. It's also known as "trench mouth", as it was discovered in a large number of soldiers in WWI that were stuck in trenches. The pain caused by ANUG is what makes it different from chronic periodontitis, and it requires treatment by professionals.
Top Symptoms: bleeding gums, gum pain, chronically bad breath, severe mouth pain, gum swelling
Urgency: In-person visit
How to relieve a sore roof of the mouth
The majority of conditions that cause pain in the roof of the mouth usually resolve without treatment. However, there are over-the-counter medications you can use to help soothe lingering pain, such as mouth rinses and topical products.
When to see a doctor
If your symptoms do not resolve with the strategies above, see your physician. He or she may recommend the following.
- Antibiotics or antifungals: If your symptoms are due to a bacterial or fungal infection, your physician will prescribe medications specific to the pathogen.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Steroids and specific anti-inflammatory medications are often used to treat allergens or other dermatologic conditions. These medications target inflammation and help soothe symptoms.
- Treatment of underlying causes: Secondary causes of pain in the roof of the mouth due to systemic diseases will only improve with an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Keep your physician in the loop regarding any new symptoms you experience.
Protect your mouth from pathogens with proper hygiene and try to avoid triggers. These strategies can go a long way to limit mouth pain.
- Hygiene: Try not to put your hands in your mouth, especially after touching doorknobs or surfaces prone to harboring germs, as well as after interacting with sick individuals. Try to wash your hands as much as possible.
- Make healthy choices: Maintain proper nutrition and avoid tobacco and alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy diet: Avoid eating or drinking hot and spicy foods, and be sure to maintain a balanced diet of vitamins and nutrients.
FAQs about pain in the roof of the mouth
Are canker sores contagious?
No, canker sores are not contagious. However, there is a similar mouth sore that presents similarly, called a cold sore, that is contagious. Make sure to make an appointment with your doctor to get the correct diagnosis.
What is the difference between a canker sore and a cold sore?
A cold sore is a painful mouth lesion that is caused by the herpes simplex virus. This virus is spread through bodily fluids and can transfer via kissing, sexual relations, and even sharing drinks. These sores usually look like small fluid-filled blisters clumped together that often occur right on the lips or at the border where the lips meet the skin on the face. Canker sores (also known as aphthous ulcers), on the other hand, are non-contagious lesions usually of inflammatory etiology. They can result from a variety of causes, including food and systemic conditions.
Is a pain in the roof of my mouth dangerous or life-threatening?
Pain in the roof of the mouth can be the first sign of a painful sore or lesion. This sore can be the first sign of serious skin reactions that can be life-threatening or cancer that is developing. It is always important to follow-up on your symptoms since many of the underlying conditions often require follow-up and treatment.
Is a pain in the roof of my mouth an acute or chronic condition?
There are some cases in which this symptom can be chronic, especially those associated with autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Red spots related to habits such as tobacco and alcohol may also persist and become chronic, whereas bacterial infections are more acute.
Can painful sores in my mouth spread to other parts of my body?
Painful sores in the mouth can spread or appear on other parts of the body depending on the cause. For example, infectious causes ranging from bacteria to fungi can cause spots to appear not only in the mouth but also in areas such as the genitalia and under the armpits.
What can I do at home to heal the roof of my mouth?
At-home remedies such as saltwater rinses can have multiple benefits at once by helping soothe some of the pain and by disinfecting the area. To avoid exacerbating the issue, do not eat spicy or acidic foods, and take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen to help with the pain.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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