Common Causes of Mouth Pain and How to Treat It

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Lots of people have experienced mouth pain at some point in their lives, whether it manifests in the form of a sore tongue, discomfort while chewing, or a burning sensation. But what causes mouth pain in the first place, and how do you treat it?

Mouth pain is often caused by inflammation, canker sores, and mouth ulcers. At times you have to contend with it due to injury, various mouth infections, or even health conditions like oral cancer. Home remedies for mouth pain include OTC drugs and pressing ice against the affected area.

Let’s get into the reasons behind mouth pain so you figure out the potential causes, know the treatment options available, and make informed decisions about when to seek proper medical care.

What Are Some Common Causes of Mouth Pain?

Woman suffering from jaw pain, toothache, tooth sensitivity

Mouth pain can occur in many locations, like the roof of your mouth, inside your cheeks, on your gums, and at the back of your mouth. The most common causes of discomfort include infections, oral cancer, and injury. Let’s discuss them in detail:

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush is an infection caused by the Candida albicans fungus. Anyone can get this type of fungal infection, but it’s typically common if you have underlying health conditions or a weak immune system.

In terms of appearance, you’ll notice it as cream-colored lesions in various locations of your mouth, including your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and inside your cheeks. The affected area usually feels sore and may bleed once in a while.

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Various bacterial and viral infections may lead to painful sores or lesions inside your mouth. The most common ones include:

  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • HIV
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)

Oral Cancer

One of the leading risk factors for developing oral cancer is tobacco use. It affects various areas of your mouth, including the following:

  • Salivary glands
  • Tongue
  • Inside the cheeks
  • Hard palate
  • Gums

Its most common symptoms include strange lumps inside the mouth, painful lesions that won’t heal, and red or white patches inside the mouth. You may also find difficulty swallowing and experience numbness in the lower lip, neck, and chin.


You may have to deal with pain in your mouth due to injury from an accident. It’s something you expect when you trip and fall, for example, because it’s easy to bite into your lips or the inside of your cheeks. 

What usually follows is pain and tenderness on the inside of your mouth. And if you bite into food that’s too hot, it can burn the roof of your mouth, otherwise known as the hard palate.

Canker Sores and Mouth Ulcers

A canker sore is typically a small yellowish ulcer with a red ring, which you’ll notice inside your cheek, around your tongue, and on the soft palate. They may also appear as white lesions with a red border inside the lips.

The most common triggers of canker sores include the following:

  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Stress and lack of sleep
  • Bacteria and viral infections
  • Certain medications and foods
  • Irritation to the mouth
  • Hormone fluctuations

Some canker sores can be terribly painful, and you’ll often feel a tingling or burning sensation before they appear. If you wear braces, you may be more prone to canker sores.

Your mouth pain could be due to ulcers caused by hot beverages, spicy foods, and acidic beverages. You can suffer longer because these foods and drinks increase the irritation from previous smaller lesions and sores.

And if you smoke tobacco, mouth ulcers can go for long periods, some even reappearing after they’d healed.

Anti-cancer drugs are also known to be culprits when it comes to mouth ulcers. Remember, these drugs kill body cells – even the good ones lining your mouth. 

That’s why you may have sores inside your mouth if you’re on such medications. In most cases, you’ll have to apply medicine directly to them to get rid of them.

Even if you can’t figure out what caused your mouth ulcers, you can follow some general guidelines to heal and ease the pain. Coating agents like Orajel (on Amazon) usually come in handy to numb the discomfort when you’re eating or drinking. 

You should also train yourself to avoid sharp foods like chips and mouthwashes with irritating chemicals.


Your body normally reacts to injury by inflaming a certain area, like your mouth. Inflammation can either be acute or chronic.

Acute inflammation will go away after just a couple of days, and it’s the type caused by a minor injury like burning the roof of your mouth with hot soup. Provided you maintain proper oral hygiene and keep the affected area clean, acute mouth inflammation will heal within a few days.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation goes for extended periods and is something you have to deal with if you have underlying medical conditions like diabetes or cancer.

It’s also common if you have gum disease, and in this case, it occurs because your body is constantly trying to get rid of harmful bacteria in your mouth by accumulating chemicals that kill them.

If the inflammation and mouth pain worsens, contact your dentist for further recommendations. This goes especially if you’re on medication for the inflammation, but your condition isn’t improving. Moreover, if the inflammation causes difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical assistance.

Sinus Infection

Mouth pain isn’t always caused by a dental problem or a direct mouth infection. At times, it’s due to a sinus infection. Medically known as rhinosinusitis or sinusitis, a sinus infection happens when fluid has built up in your nasal cavities, or sinuses, encouraging germs to grow there.

Your sinuses then become swollen and inflamed. Because they lie close to the roots of your teeth, you’ll experience pain in the upper teeth at the back of your mouth and on the jaws.

Other symptoms of a sinus infection include a stuffy nose and bad breath. It’s also common to feel facial pressure and pain around the nose, eyes, and ears.

Dry Mouth

Your mouth is only moist because your salivary glands produce enough saliva to keep it so. But if they fail to produce enough, you’ll quickly have a dry mouth problem. This also goes if you’re suffering dehydration. 

And if you’re on certain medications or have an underlying health condition like diabetes, you can have mouth pain due to a dry mouth. Even certain toothpastes can cause dry mouth.

You’ll have a parched feeling inside your mouth and might as well deal with mouth sores and a rough tongue. It’s also not uncommon to experience a tingling sensation on your tongue and a burning sensation in your mouth. 

Home Remedies to Try

Young woman suffering from toothache on white background

While severe mouth pain calls for immediate medical attention, there are dozens of at-home remedies you can try to ease the pain and discomfort before it becomes unbearable. Here are the options:

Apply Ice to the Affected Area

Before an appointment with your dentist or health provider, you can reduce mouth pain by pressing an ice pack against the affected area for around 15 minutes. You can also gently suck on ice chips.

You can then follow the cold compress by pressing a heating pad against the affected area to increase blood flow and relieve the tension. This helps with the pain and inflammation, and you can do it alternately with a cold compress.

Take OTC Meds

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and aspirin help reduce pain and inflammation in the mouth. Just be sure to observe the recommended dosage.

Apply a Mouth Numbing Gel

Use a mouth-numbing gel containing benzocaine or hydrogen peroxide to ease mouth pain that comes from sores and lesions. However, if a child under two years old has mouth pains, please don’t give them any benzocaine agents.

Make a Salt Water Rinse

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a half cup of warm water, then swirl it in your mouth for 30 seconds and spit it out. This usually helps with canker sores because it kills harmful bacteria in the mouth.

Increase Your Fluid Intake

Drink more healthy fluids like clean water and eat juicy fruits like pineapples and melons to help hydrate your mouth and maintain good oral health.

Avoid Foods That Irritate Your Mouth

Any foods that can irritate your mouth, gums, and tongue should not even feature on your menu. This means no food that’s hard and crispy, spicy, or acidic. You should also avoid eating too many sweets.

Brush and Floss Gently

Maintaining proper oral care is key, and you must be extra careful when brushing and flossing to avoid irritating any sores in your mouth. 

Avoid toothpaste and mouthwashes with irritating detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). You should also avoid teeth-bleaching products and abrasive toothpaste like charcoal.

Stop Using Tobacco and Tobacco Products

Because tobacco use will only make canker sores and mouth ulcers stick around for longer, consider avoiding smoking and using other tobacco products to avoid mouth pain.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

While oral pain isn’t usually a dental emergency, it’s not something you should take lightly. If your mouth pain is becoming unbearable, it’s time to give your dentist a call. 

Get help from your health provider if your mouth pain persists or becomes severe instead of getting better. It’s also recommended you seek medical treatment if your mouth pain comes with other symptoms like fever, swelling, or pus.

You need prompt medical attention if your mouth pain causes the following:

  • Trauma that leads to severe bleeding or infection
  • Inflamed palates that give you a hard time swallowing foods and breathing
  • Recurrent fever of 103 F or higher that doesn’t respond to OTC drugs

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