Symptoms A-Z

Painful or Sore Roof of the Mouth? Learn About Potential Causes

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.

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Sore Roof of the Mouth Symptoms Explained

Pain in the roof of the mouth can make everyday activities such as eating and talking difficult. Unless you’re certain you burned your mouth from hurriedly drinking your morning coffee, this pain can actually be a signal an underlying infectious or systemic condition that requires medical attention.

Characteristics of pain in the roof of the mouth

The roof of the mouth is not a readily visible area, making it difficult to characterize the affected area for yourself. Though you may not be able to see the primary lesion you may experience:

  • An area that is more severely affected, like a sore or a lesion
  • Multiple sores or spots in the mouth
  • Erythema (redness) of the mouth mucosa

Common accompanying symptoms

Since pain in the roof of the mouth can have a variety of causes, it can be associated with different accompanying symptoms that include [1]:

  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Pigmentation
  • Burning or tingling
  • Blistering
  • Dryness
  • Flaking
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

If you are experiencing painful mouth sores or any of the accompanying symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

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.

Inflammatory causes

The mouth is the body’s first line of protection against different pathogens and toxic substances, and as a result, it is susceptible to inflammation from a variety of pathogens and different causes.

  • Infectious: There are various bacterial infections that are associated with painful sores that appear in the mouth, especially the soft or hard palate. There are also fungi that commonly infect warm, damp areas of the body such as the mouth. Painful spots caused by fungi can range from red and patchy to creamy and white.
  • Allergy: Drug reactions can be a serious, 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 [2].
  • Autoimmune: Systemic autoimmune conditions that affect multiple body parts such as inflammatory bowel disease and lupus often manifest and have symptoms that affect the mouth.

Environmental causes

The mouth is often the first contact with environmental substances such as food and liquids that may cause irritation and allergic reactions that affect the roof of the mouth. Moreover, the mouth is easily susceptible to environmental factors related to trauma.

  • Irritants: Tobacco and alcohol are serious irritants to the body. They can cause significant irritation of the mouth and its structures 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 [3].
  • Trauma: The most common acute causes of mouth ulcers are related to trauma. Trauma includes 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 seem to be particularly causal include spicy or acidic foods like oranges, eggs, strawberries, and even chocolate. On the other hand, diets deficient in certain nutrients such as vitamin B-12, vitamin C, folate or iron can also result in pain localized to the roof of the mouth.

6 Possible Pain In The Roof Of The Mouth Conditions

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

Cold sore

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

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 ...

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.

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

Pain In The Roof Of The Mouth Symptom Checker

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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.

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

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.

Rarity: Rare

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

Since the causes of pain in the roof of the mouth can be so variable, treatment will be dependent on the specific cause. Depending on the cause, your healthcare provider may suggest the following.

At-home treatment

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 alleviate lingering pain. For example, there are mouth rinses and topical products you can purchase and use at home to help treat symptoms.

When to see a doctor

However, if your symptoms do not resolve with the strategies above within a few weeks, make an appointment with your doctor in order to explore the following treatments:

  • Antibiotics/Antifungals: If your symptoms are caused by 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 in the treatment of allergens or other dermatologic conditions. They are targeted to control inflammation and may help alleviate symptoms.
  • Treat the underlying cause: Secondary causes of pain in the roof of the mouth due to systemic diseases will only improve with the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause. This highlights the importance of following up with your doctor on any symptoms you may experience.

Prevention

It is important to protect your mouth from pathogens by maintaining proper hygiene and avoiding known triggers. These strategies can go a long way in preventing the incidence of pain in the roof of the mouth.

  • Hygiene: Avoid putting your hands in your mouth especially after touching doorknobs or surfaces prone to harboring germs, as well as after interacting with sick individuals. You should aim to wash your hands as much as possible to stay in good health regardless.
  • 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 intake a balanced amount 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 definitely contagious. Make sure to make an appointment with your doctor in order to get the correct diagnosis [4].

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 be transmitted 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 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 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 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 chronic 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.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain In The Roof Of The Mouth

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Where specifically is your mouth pain?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?
  • Do you have a rash?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in the roof of the mouth

Pain In The Roof Of The Mouth Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced pain in the roof of the mouth have also experienced:

  • 10% Sore Throat
  • 5% Headache
  • 4% Congestion

People who have experienced pain in the roof of the mouth were most often matched with:

  • 60% Gingivitis
  • 20% Cold Sore
  • 20% Oral Herpes

People who have experienced pain in the roof of the mouth had symptoms persist for:

  • 47% Less than a week
  • 27% Less than a day
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Pain In The Roof Of The Mouth Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in the roof of the mouth

References

  1. Mouth sores. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Dec. 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Krauss G. Current understanding of delayed anticonvulsant hypersensitivity reactions. Epilepsy Curr. 2006;6(2):33-7. NCBI Link
  3. The Alcohol Connection. The Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral Cancer Foundation Link
  4. Grimard BH, Larson JM, Mcbrayer RH. Scalded Mouth with Headache. Am Fam Physician. 2008 May 1;77(9):1307-1309. AAFP Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.