Skip to main contentSkip to accessibility services
7 min read
No Ads

Red Spots in the Mouth

Red spots in the mouth can occur on the lips, roof of the mouth, back of the throat, and tongue. Certain types, like cold sores and oral herpes, can be very painful. Red spots are usually caused by an infection from bacteria, like strep throat, a virus, or fungus. Treating it depends on the cause but you can reduce the pain with numbing creams.
Tooltip Icon.
Last updated September 23, 2021

Oral herpes questionnaire

Answer our clinicians' questions to get a oral herpes treatment prescription for $25 and know if your oral herpes is serious.

Oral herpes questionnaire

Answer our clinicians' questions to get a oral herpes treatment prescription for $25 and know if your oral herpes is serious.

See oral herpes treatment options

Only available in: CA, NY, TX, FL, IL, NC, PA, OH, MI, and WA

What are red spots on the roof of mouth, lips, or tongue?

Red spots in the mouth can coincide with pain and discomfort making everyday activities such as eating and talking very difficult. On the other hand, red spots in the mouth may be asymptomatic and go unnoticed for a long period of time. Regardless of the presentation, these spots often signal an underlying infection or systemic condition that requires medical follow-up.

Common characteristics of red spots in the mouth

These spots can also have various appearances. They can be described as any combination of the following:

  • Small and red
  • Large with a red border and a different colored center
  • Softor hard

Common accompanying symptoms of red spots in the mouth

Red spots in the mouth can also be found outside of the mouth on the lips or lower face and may also be associated with symptoms such as:

If you are experiencing red spots in the mouth or any of the associated symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

What causes red spots in your mouth?

Red spots in the mouth can have a variety of different causes, many of which are inflammatory in nature. Inflammation can occur from systemic diseases or environmental triggers that irritate the mucosal lining of the mouth. There are many different causes which can most easily be grouped into the following categories:

Infectious cause

The mouth is the body's first line of protection against different pathogens and toxic substances, and as a result, it is exposed to many infectious causes of red spots in the mouth.

  • Bacterial: There are various bacterial infections that are associated with red spots that appear in the mouth, especially the soft or hard palate. For example, streptococci (strep) is a group of bacteria that can result in symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, and fever in addition to the appearance of small, painless red spots in the mouth.
  • Cold sores: Skin lesions caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They are extremely common.
  • Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This usually happens early in childhood.
  • Paramyxoviruses (the virus that causes measles) can cause clusters of small red spots in the mouth. There are often painless and are called koplik spots.
  • Fungal: There are certain fungi such as candida that have a predilection for infecting warm, damp areas of the body such as the mouth. Spots caused by fungi can range from red and patchy to creamy and white.

Oral herpes questionnaire

Answer our clinicians' questions to get a oral herpes treatment prescription for $25 and know if your oral herpes is serious.

See oral herpes treatment options

Only available in: CA, NY, TX, FL, IL, NC, PA, OH, MI, and WA

Autoimmune causes

Many inflammatory conditions that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the mouth and cause injury and inflammation that results in red spots or sores.

  • Systemic: Systemic autoimmune conditions that affect multiple body parts such as inflammatory bowel disease and lupus often have symptoms that affect the mouth.
  • Dermatologic: Many dermatologic conditions can result in chronic, inflammatory rashes or lesions that prefer the mucosal linings of the body, including the mouth. Conditions such as lichen planus can cause red spots in the mouth that persist and are difficult to treat.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes can be related to certain exposures or lifestyle habits.

  • Diet: The mouth is in direct contact with food and liquids that may cause allergic reactions that result in red lesions in the mouth. Foods that seem to be particularly common allergens or irritants include those that are spicy or acidic like oranges, eggs, strawberries, and even chocolate. On the other hand, diets deficient in certain nutrients such as vitamin B12, folate or iron can also result in red spots or sores in the mouth.
  • Drug use: Tobacco and alcohol can cause significant irritation of the mouth and its structures and even some types of cancer. In fact, tobacco products are heavily associated with oral cancer. Tobacco and alcohol can cause excess cell growth in the mucosal lining of the mouth due to chronic irritation and result in painful sores. Mouth sores are also a side effect of chemotherapy.
  • Stress: Fatigue and emotional stress can also be a strong trigger for the development of red spots or sores in the mouth. Take note if you develop spots in your mouth during stressful times.

Cancer

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL. It is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow where new white blood cells, or lymphocytes, are formed.
  • Mouth sores are a common side effect of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It can cause red areas or a burning feeling in the mouth, painful sores, and painful or difficulty swallowing.

How to treat red spots in your mouth

Since the causes of red spots in the mouth are so varied, your treatment plan will depend on the specific cause of your symptoms. Depending on the cause, your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Antibiotics/Antifungals: If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. If you have a fungal infection, they may prescribe an antifungal. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics so you will not be given one if you have a viral infection.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: If you have an autoimmune disease, you may be given steroids and specific anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the bodywide inflammation.
  • Diet counseling: Since diet is an important component in the pathogenesis of conditions of the mouth, your physician may suggest starting a dedicated nutrition program in order to help with your symptoms.

Oral herpes questionnaire

Answer our clinicians' questions to get a oral herpes treatment prescription for $25 and know if your oral herpes is serious.

See oral herpes treatment options

Only available in: CA, NY, TX, FL, IL, NC, PA, OH, MI, and WA

FAQs about red spots in the mouth

Are there things I can do to prevent the development of red spots in the mouth?

Since many of the causes of red spots in the mouth are infectious in nature, it is important to protect yourself from pathogens by maintaining proper hygiene such as hand washing. Avoid putting your hands in your mouth especially after touching doorknobs or interacting with sick individuals. In addition, maintaining proper nutrition and avoiding tobacco and alcohol can also go a long way in preventing the occurrence of red spots in the mouth.

Are red spots in the mouth dangerous or life-threatening?

For the most part, red spots in the mouth are more annoying and uncomfortable rather than dangerous or life-threatening. However, a red spot in your mouth may also be a sign of a cancerous process, so never ignore your symptoms. It is always important to follow-up on your symptoms since many of the underlying conditions often require follow-up and treatment.

How long will the red spots in my mouth last?

The duration of your symptoms will depend on the specific cause. For example, bacterial causes of red spots in the mouth often go away with the resolution of the underlying bacteria whereas autoimmune causes of red spots in the mouth may be a lifelong problem.

Are red spots in the mouth an acute or chronic condition?

There are some cases in which red spots in the mouth can be chronic, especially those associated with autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Furthermore, viruses such as herpes can persist within the body and recur in times of physical and emotional stress. Red spots related to chronic habits such as tobacco and alcohol may also persist and become chronic whereas bacterial infections are more acute.

Can red spots in my mouth spread to other parts of my body?

Red spots 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.

Questions your doctor may ask about red spots in the mouth

  • Do you have a sore throat?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Look in the back of your throat, does your throat look inflamed and red?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Cause of red dots on my soft palatePosted May 30, 2021 by s.
I went to my ENT doctor (Ears, Nose, Throat Doctor) and also called an otolaryngologist to ask about my condition because every morning it's so very uncomfortable to have an itchy palate (soft palate, search it), itchy ears and runny nose. I have little red dots in my soft palate. You can see those red dots by facing the mirror, open your mouth and take a flashlight so you can clearly see what's inside your mouth. My doctor said that I have Allergic Rhinitis and those red dots in my soft palate are caused by allergic cluck wherein I place my tongue against the roof of the mouth to form a seal and withdrawn it, it's my way to scratch my itchy palate. It's not life-threatening though. It's similar to bruises, it can go away on its own but always consult your doctor regarding your symptoms so that you will know what's the real cause of your red dots and you can take the prescribed medicine that is right for you. Hope it helps you. HAVE A NICE DAY????
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
Read full bio

Was this article helpful?

6 people found this helpful
Tooltip Icon.

References

  1. Measles (Rubeola). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 17, 2015. CDC Link
  2. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated Nov. 1, 2018. CDC Link
  3. Canker Sores. American Academy of Oral Medicine. Updated Dec. 31, 2007. AAOM Link
  4. The Tobacco Connection. The Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral Cancer Foundation Link
  5. Mouth Sores. American Cancer Society. Updated June 8, 2015. American Cancer Society Link