Read below about mouth pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your mouth pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Mouth Pain Symptoms

Mouth pain can be severe and debilitating to the point of interfering with necessary activities like eating and drinking. Several structures in the mouth can be impacted by pain, including the teeth, gums, tongue, and lips. Pain may be the only issue, but other bothersome symptoms are often present, and some causes of mouth pain can be dangerous to overall health. It may be difficult to get rid of mouth pain, but some causes will resolve with medical or dental treatment or even on their own.

Characteristics

Symptoms that can be associated with mouth pain include:

Mouth Pain Causes

A few main causes of mouth pain are described below in order from most to least common. These include injury, dental disease, medical conditions and cancer [1].

Injury

Mouth pain after an injury, such as during a sports game or in a car accident, may occur due to a cut or tooth damage.

Chronic dental disease

Chronic gum and tooth disease, often due to poor oral hygiene, can lead to pain. The progressing disease causes a predisposition to infections, which can worsen pain and result in dangerous complications.

  • Cavities: Buildup of plaque from a combination of food and bacteria will eventually cause tooth decay. As cavities progress, tooth pain occurs with chewing and exposure to hot and cold temperatures.

  • Gum disease: Plaque can also lead to chronic gum inflammation, ultimately causing the gums to pull away from the teeth. The gums are often swollen, red, and painful.

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions that affect the mouth can lead to pain.

  • Oral infection: A mouth infection with the herpes virus causes painful sores on the gums, lips, and/or other parts of the mouth.
  • Chronic mouth conditions: Persistent mouth pain can occur without a clear underlying cause (burning mouth syndrome) [2]. The tongue and roof of the mouth are typically affected, and other oral symptoms can occur, such as dryness. Mouth pain can also be caused by recurring "canker sores."
  • Systemic medical conditions: Multiple medical problems can cause mouth pain, including nutritional deficiencies and some autoimmune conditions [3,4].

Cancer

Cancer that directly impacts the mouth or chemotherapy can both lead to mouth pain.

  • Mouth cancer: A skin cancer growing in the mouth will often be painful. This commonly appears as a thickening area or ulcer on the tongue.
  • Chemotherapy: The mouth is commonly affected as a side effect of chemotherapy. Possible symptoms include ulcers and taste changes [5].

7 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced mouth pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Gingivitis

    Gingivitis is the infection of the gums surrounding the teeth. It is caused by plaque and/or tartar that has built up on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky layer of gunk made by food particles, mucus, and bacteria. After a while, plaque hardens to become tartar (or calculus). Plaque and tartar at the bottom of the teeth causes the gums to become irritated and infected.

    Great, with dental care and improvement in dental hygiene

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    bleeding gums, gum pain, gum swelling, gum redness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Oral Herpes

    Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This typically happens early in childhood.

    1-2 weeks but recurrent

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, gum pain, painful mouth sore, gum swelling, gum redness
    Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes:
    gum pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.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.

    Indefinite

    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

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  4. 4.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.

    Good prognosis with treatment. Without treatment, ANUG can become recurrent and chronic.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    bleeding gums, gum pain, chronically bad breath, severe mouth pain, gum swelling
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  5. 5.Cold Sore

    Cold sores (also called oral herpes or fever blisters), are viral infections of the mouth caused by the herpes virus type 1. You were probably infected very early in life as a child when an adult kissed you. The virus stays asleep (dormant) and causes infections every now and then after exposure to lots of sun or emotional/physical stress. It is contagious when an outbreak is happening, but treatment is limited unless you are immunocompromised.

    1-2 weeks. Natural healing process starts within 24 hours of the initial sore starting.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    mouth lesions, itchy mouth, pain on the outside of the lips, lip numbness, burning pain on the outside of the lips
    Symptoms that always occur with cold sore:
    mouth lesions
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.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.

    23.8% have moderate improvement with treatment. 49% see no improvement. 18.9% get worse over time. 3% of people will have it go away on its own.

    Rarity:
    Common
    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
  7. 7.Dry Socket (Postextraction Alveolar Osteitis)

    Dry socket (or postextraction alveolar osteitis) is a common cause of severe pain after a dental extraction (tooth pull). It's known to be related to how the extraction was done, menstrual cycle, tobacco smoking, age, sex, and whether you have had an extraction before.

    You need to be seen by a dentist after initial treatment. Prognosis is good, though. If untreated, pain can last 10-40 days.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant mouth pain, chronically bad breath, changed sense of taste, severe mouth pain, mouth pain at the site of a dental procedure
    Symptoms that always occur with dry socket (postextraction alveolar osteitis):
    mouth pain at the site of a dental procedure, constant mouth pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Mouth Pain Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Many causes of mouth pain are chronic and can be evaluated on a non-urgent basis. However, an acute injury or spreading infection can have complications if untreated.

At-home treatments

There are a few methods you can try at home to help alleviate your mouth pain.

  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks: These will worsen cavities and gum disease.
  • Practice good dental hygiene: To prevent progression of any dental disease, brush twice daily (preferably with a motorized toothbrush) and floss once a day.
  • Address sensitivity: Try using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth if you are having tooth pain, and avoid hot and cold foods.
  • Avoid smoking and spicy foods: These can worsen mouth pain.
  • Manage stress: Try meditation or other strategies to mitigate anxiety, since stress may worsen burning mouth syndrome and gum disease.
  • Drink more water or use ice: If your mouth pain is associated with dryness, increase your fluid intake or suck on ice chips.

When to schedule an appointment

In some cases, even if emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment — especially if at-home treatments are not effective. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have an ulcer in the mouth that isn't healing.
  • You have pain with chewing or hot and cold temperatures.
  • You have loose teeth or swollen, painful gums.
  • You have recurring painful ulcers.
  • You have burning mouth pain that is staying the same or getting worse over time.
  • You are experiencing mouth pain while receiving chemotherapy.
  • The pain is so severe that you are having difficulty eating and drinking.

Medical treatments

After evaluation, your medical provider can then prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your mouth pain:

  • Medication for other conditions: A low dosage of a medication also used for psychiatric or neurological conditions may help alleviate pain associated with burning mouth syndrome.
  • Fluoride treatment: This can help restore the enamel that protects against cavities. Cavities, also called caries, are extremely prevalent in the entire population worldwide but can be effectively mitigated with fluoride [6].
  • Treatment for existing cavities: This would possibly including fillings or removal of severely decayed teeth.
  • Cream or oral medication: An antiviral cream or oral medication may be used for a herpes infection.
  • Numbing treatments: You may choose cream or mouthwash containing an anesthetic.
  • Increasing saliva: Saliva replacement or a medication that increases saliva production may be helpful if you suffer from a dry mouth.
  • Antibiotics for any infection
  • Treatment of other underlying conditions

Seek emergency treatment for the following

If you experience the following, you should seek immediate treatment.

  • Dental infection: This can be signaled by difficulty breathing or opening your mouth, facial swelling, or changes in your voice, especially if fever is also present.
  • Trauma: This can be signaled by significant bleeding or swelling, severe pain, or loss of a tooth after a facial injury.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Mouth Pain

  • Q.Where specifically is your mouth pain?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?
  • Q.Do you have a rash?
  • Q.Does your breath smell worse than usual?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our mouth pain symptom checker to find out more.

Mouth Pain Quiz

Mouth Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced mouth pain have also experienced:

    • 8% Jaw Pain
    • 7% Headache
    • 7% Eye Pain
  • People who have experienced mouth pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 47% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Less Than a Day
    • 11% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced mouth pain were most often matched with:

    • 50% Melanoma of the Mouth
    • 37% Gingivitis
    • 12% Oral Herpes
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Renton T. Dental (odontogenic) pain. Reviews in Pain. 2011;5(1):2-7. NCBI Link
  2. Hujoel PP, Hujoel MLA, Kotsakis GA. Personal oral hygiene and dental caries: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Gerodontology. 2018. NCBI Link
  3. Sheetal A, Hiremath VK, Patil AG, Sajjansetty S, Kumar SR. Malnutrition and its oral outcome - a review. Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research. 2013;7(1):178-180. NCBI Link
  4. Lyssova V. Autoimmune conditions and oral health. HSS. Published August 15, 2013. HSS Link
  5. Aravindhan R, Vidyalakshmi S, Kumar MS, Setheesh C, Balasubramanium AM, Prasad VS. Burning mouth syndrome: A review on its diagnostic and therapeutic approach. NCBI Link
  6. Dental and oral health. Cancer.Net. Published July 2017. Cancer.Net Link