Infections, injuries, jaw problems, and cancer can all cause mouth pain. The location and type of pain, plus any other symptoms that occur with it, can help with identifying the cause.

The pain may originate from numerous sources within the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, gums, teeth, palate, and inner cheeks. Not all causes of mouth pain require treatment, but some do.

This article will explore some of the causes of mouth pain, along with their symptoms, treatments, and how to get temporary pain relief at home.

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Mouth pain can occur for many reasons, ranging from minor irritations to more serious medical conditions. Some possible causes include:

This is not a comprehensive list. If a person does not know what is causing persistent mouth pain, they need to speak with a doctor.

Burns in the mouth can cause lingering pain and soreness inside the cheeks, lips, on the roof of the mouth, or on the tongue. This could occur due to eating or drinking something hot, very sour, or irritating. Similarly, a cut in any part of the mouth could continue to hurt until it heals.

Minor injuries can heal on their own, but more extensive injuries may need medical care, such as dissolvable stitches.

If either a burn or a cut contracts an infection, this can also lead to pain. The symptoms of a potential infection include:

  • increased pain
  • swelling
  • redness or red streaks around the injury
  • pus draining from the injury
  • fever

If a person develops symptoms of infection, they should speak to a doctor right away.

Canker sores, or mouth ulcers, are small sores with a white or yellowish center and red borders. They can appear inside the cheeks or on the tongue and will often sting if a person eats certain foods, such as crunchy or salty foods.

Doctors do not understand the exact cause of these sores, but they may result from minor mouth injuries, stress, or certain foods. They often heal on their own within 1 week. Over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications can help relieve pain.

Dental abscesses form due to bacterial infection within the tooth or gums, often the result of untreated tooth decay or gum disease.

Symptoms include:

  • severe, persistent toothache
  • swelling of the face or jaw
  • fever
  • a pimple-like bump on the gum, or a gum boil

Treatment involves draining the abscess, root canal therapy, or tooth extraction, along with antibiotics to clear the infection.

Gum disease is the result of bacteria infecting the gums. This can cause:

  • tender, painful gums
  • red or swollen gums
  • gum bleeding
  • pain when chewing
  • loose or sensitive teeth
  • receding gums

Improper dental hygiene and smoking can contribute to gum disease. Cleaning at the dentist, as well as daily brushing and flossing, can help treat it. Quitting smoking can also reduce the risk of gum disease coming back.

The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores. These are painful, fluid-filled blisters that can occur on the lips or inside the mouth. Some people also experience itchiness or fever.

HSV-1 can lie dormant for many years until something triggers it, such as stress, fever, sunlight exposure, or illness. The sores will usually heal by themselves, but ointments, such as docosanol or acyclovir cream, can hasten the process. Some people may need antiviral medications.

An overgrowth of fungus in the mouth causes oral thrush. It can happen because someone:

  • has immune system issues
  • has taken antibiotics
  • inhales steroids without a spacer
  • has certain health conditions.

The symptoms include:

  • white, creamy lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, or roof of the mouth
  • discomfort
  • a burning sensation

Antifungal medications, such as oral rinses or lozenges, may treat the infection.

TMJ disorders affect the temporomandibular joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. They can cause:

  • jaw pain or tenderness
  • discomfort when chewing
  • facial pain
  • headaches

The exact cause of TMJ disorder can vary but may stem from excessive jaw clenching or teeth grinding, injury, arthritis, or misalignment of the teeth or jaw.

A person may need to rest the jaw and use a mouthguard to prevent teeth grinding during their sleep. They may also need to avoid things that make it worse, such as chewing gum. Some may require pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications to ease pain and inflammation.

The symptoms of oral cancer can include:

  • unexplained mouth sores
  • red or white patches
  • persistent mouth pain
  • difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • lumps in the mouth or neck

Oral cancer can develop due to tobacco use, alcohol consumption, chronic inflammation, or human papillomavirus infection.

Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches, depending on the stage and location of the cancer.

Here are some basic self-care measures that may ease mouth pain:

  • Salt water rinse: Gargling with warm salt water may soothe irritated tissues in the mouth. Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and rinse the mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting it out.
  • Cold compress: Applying a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth to the outside of the cheek may help reduce swelling.
  • Oral hygiene: Maintaining appropriate oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing, flossing, and using an alcohol-free mouthwash, may help prevent infections.
  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated can help keep the mouth moist and alleviate discomfort relating to dryness.
  • Soft diet: Opt for softer foods that are easier to chew and less likely to aggravate mouth pain, especially if eating becomes uncomfortable.
  • Avoiding irritants: Refrain from smoking, using tobacco products, or consuming spicy or acidic foods that irritate the mouth.
  • OTC pain medications: Pain medications, such as acetaminophen, may temporarily relieve mild to moderate mouth pain.

These methods will not treat the underlying cause of mouth pain. For that, a person may need to speak with a doctor.

Anyone with unexplained or persistent mouth pain needs to contact a doctor or dentist for advice. People also need to seek medical care if they have ulcers that do not heal, bleeding or swelling in the mouth, or unusual lumps or growths.

If the symptoms are making it difficult to speak, swallow, or breathe, a person needs to seek immediate medical attention.

Various conditions can cause mouth pain, ranging from minor injuries and treatable infections to more serious diseases. The issue may be dental, affecting the teeth and gums, or it may involve the soft tissues of the mouth, such as the tongue or inside of the cheeks.

Ice, salt water rinses, and avoiding certain foods may help temporarily ease the pain. Stopping smoking, if applicable, can also help with maintaining oral health.

If a person has unexplained pain that does not get better on its own, severe mouth pain, or signs of infection, they need to consult a doctor or dentist.