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4 Possible Causes of Roof of Mouth Pain & Their Treatments

Updated on July 22, 2022
Nandita Lilly
Written by Zia Sherrell
Medically Reviewed by Nandita Lilly

Why is the Roof of my Mouth Sore?

If the roof of your mouth (palate) is sore, it can make eating and drinking uncomfortable and difficult. You may also have problems speaking normally.

Several things can cause a sore palate, including very hot coffee, infections, allergies, and injuries. In most cases, it's not a serious condition and typically goes away by itself. However, if the pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, contact a medical professional.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a sore palate vary depending on the cause. You might experience:

  • Pain
  • Burning or tingling sensation
  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • Bad breath
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Visible sores

4 Possible Causes of Roof of Mouth Pain

Here are four potential causes of palate pain:

1. Burns

The roof of your mouth is a delicate and sensitive area that can burn easily. Eating or drinking something too hot can cause a burn.

Burn pain is usually immediate and can be severe. It typically goes away within 3 to 7 days without treatment and commonly heals by itself.1

Other Symptoms 

  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Peeling skin
  • Dry mouth

Treatment

Cool or frozen foods and drinks such as ice pops, ice cream, and yogurts may ease discomfort from a mouth burn. It’s wise to avoid crunchy, hot, or spicy foods until the burn heals.

Your dentist can also recommend mouth rinses that promote healing.               

2. Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)

Canker sores are small, painful ulcers that can develop on the hard palate or anywhere on the soft tissues in the mouth. They’re usually white or yellow with a red border and can make eating and drinking uncomfortable. 

The lesions may resemble cold sores but don’t occur on the surface of lips and are not contagious.

Doctors are unsure why some people experience canker sores. It may be a combination of factors, including a vitamin B-12 deficiency, stress, hormonal shifts, infections, or minor injuries. Doctors also link them to immune system conditions.

Canker sores are rarely serious. However, more severe symptoms can still arise in some cases.2

Types 

There are three different types of canker sores:

  1. Minor — most common type; usually small and oval-shaped with a red border. These may take 1 to 2 weeks to heal without scarring. 
  2. Major — less common type; usually round with irregular, well-defined borders. These are extremely painful and may take up to 6 weeks to heal. They can also leave extensive scarring. 
  3. Herpetiform — uncommon type; develop later in life but are not caused by the herpes virus infection. They are usually pinpoint in size and can occur in clusters of 10 to 100. However, they can merge into one large ulcer and may take 1 to 2 weeks to heal without scarring.  

Triggers

Some common causes of canker sores include:

  • A minor injury to the mouth from dental work or oral trauma
  • Toothpastes and mouth rinses containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
  • Food sensitivities, including chocolate, coffee, strawberries, eggs, nuts, cheese, and spicy or acidic foods
  • A diet lacking in vitamin B-12, zinc, folate (folic acid), and/or iron
  • An allergic response to specific bacteria in your mouth
  • Helicobacter pylori, the same bacteria that causes peptic ulcers
  • Hormonal shifts during menstruation and pregnancy
  • Mental stress

Canker sores may also occur because of certain conditions and diseases, such as:

  • Celiac disease — a serious intestinal disorder caused by a sensitivity to gluten
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases — such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Behcet's disease — a rare disorder that causes inflammation throughout the body
  • A compromised immune system — attacks healthy cells instead of pathogens
  • HIV/AIDS — which suppresses the immune system

Other Symptoms 

  • Shallow, round, or oval sores
  • Burning or tingling sensation
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes3

Treatment

Treatment may include:

  • Topical anesthetics to ease pain
  • Mouth rinses
  • Corticosteroid ointments
  • Antibiotics for recurrent canker sores

A doctor may recommend dietary changes or specific vitamins or supplements if nutritional deficiencies cause a canker sore.

3. Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)

The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores. If the roof of your mouth hurts and you can see blister patches, they could be cold sores. These mouth sores usually appear on the lips but can also develop on the hard palate.

Most people contract the virus as children, but the sores don’t always appear immediately. Instead, the virus can lie dormant for years until a trigger such as stress, illness, or a weakened immune system causes an outbreak.4

Triggers

Some common causes of fever blisters include:

  • Viral infection or fever
  • Hormonal changes, such as those related to menstruation
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Exposure to sunlight and wind
  • Immune system changes
  • Skin injury

Certain conditions and diseases can also trigger cold sores, such as:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Cancer chemotherapy
  • Anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants

Signs and Symptoms

A cold sore usually passes through 3 stages:

  1. Tingling, itching, and burning for a day or so before a small, hard, painful spot appears.
  2. Small fluid-filled blisters typically erupt along the vermillion border of the lips. These blisters can also appear around the nose, cheeks or inside of the mouth.
  3. The small blisters may merge and then burst, leaving a shallow, open sore.

Other Symptoms 

  • Ulcers in and around the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Soreness
  • Flu-like symptoms

Treatment

It’s impossible to cure the herpes simplex virus that causes mouth sores. Once someone has the virus, it stays in their body forever.

The cold sore blisters usually heal on their own within 14 days. During healing, drinking cool drinks and eating frozen foods like ice cream may ease discomfort.4

If you develop cold sores more than 9 times a year or are at high risk of serious complications, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication for you to take regularly. 

4. Oral Cancer

Although the causes of a sore palate are typically harmless, some, such as oral cancer, are more serious. Mouth cancer causes cells to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues. It can develop on the tongue, gums, palate, or anywhere else in the mouth.

Identifying mouth cancer early is the key to successful treatment. Therefore, if your palate is still sore after 10 days, see your doctor or dentist for an evaluation.5

Symptoms

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Pain that doesn’t go away
  • A lump or thickened tissue
  • White or red patches
  • Numbness
  • Swelling

Treatment

Treatment for oral cancer may depend on your overall health and the location and stage of cancer. Options include:

  • Surgery 
  • Radiation 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Palliative treatment

How Long Will the Roof of my Mouth Hurt?

Most causes of a sore palate are not serious and resolve within about 10 days. However, if the roof of your mouth still hurts after this time, make an appointment with your doctor.7

They can perform a physical assessment and take a medical history to help diagnose your condition. Then, they can recommend treatment or refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for further evaluation.

How to Relieve Soreness

If the roof of your mouth is sore, you can do several things to ease discomfort:

  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water 
  • Suck on ice cubes or ice pops
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen 
  • Apply a topical numbing agent like Orajel 
  • Avoid hot or spicy foods 
  • Eat soft foods such as ice cream, apple sauce, or mashed potatoes 
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco products 

Applying coconut oil may also help. Research shows that this natural oil has antimicrobial abilities. As a result, it may prevent a bacterial infection. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce redness and pain.8

Your dentist or doctor may also prescribe:

  • Medicated mouthwashes
  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Topical anesthetics 
  • Protective coatings

Prevention Tips 

There are some things you can do to help prevent a sore roof of the mouth, including: 

  • Allowing food and drinks to cool slightly before consuming them to prevent burns
  • Avoiding spicy, acidic, or salty foods that can irritate the inside of your mouth
  • Quitting smoking and using tobacco products to reduce the risk of oral cancer
  • Practicing good oral hygiene with regular brushing and flossing to keep bacteria in check
  • Minimizing stress that can lead to cold sore outbreaks

When to See a Dentist

If you have a sore palate, certain signs signify it’s time to seek medical attention urgently. They include:

  • Fever
  • Skin blisters
  • Eye inflammation  

See your dentist if you notice any change in your mouth, as early diagnosis and treatment can increase your chances of a cure.

If you have a weakened immune system because of HIV or another reason, seek professional medical help if you develop any mouth sores.

Additionally, if you’re in considerable pain, generally feel unwell, or have trouble eating, see a doctor as soon as possible. Anyone with sores or other symptoms that last 10 days or more should see a doctor to ensure the sores are not cancerous or precancerous.7

Summary

A sore palate is a common condition that has multiple causes. Some of the most common include burns, canker sores, and cold sores.

Usually, the causes are not serious and resolve within 10 days. If you still experience symptoms after this time, make an appointment with your doctor or dentist.

They can perform a physical assessment and rule out any serious causes. They can also recommend treatment or refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for further evaluation.

Last updated on July 22, 2022
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 22, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Why does the roof of my mouth hurt?” Pearl Dentistry. 2021.
  2. Canker sore.” Mayo Clinic. 2018. 
  3. Canker sores.” Cleveland Clinic. 2022.
  4. Herpes Simplex Virus (Cold Sores) in Children.” Stanford Children’s Health. 
  5. Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer.” American Cancer Society. 2021.
  6. Treating Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer.” American Cancer Society. 
  7. Hennessy, B.J.“Mouth Sores and Inflammation.” MSD Manual. 2022.
  8. Shilling, M., et al. “Antimicrobial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Medium-Chain Fatty Acids on Clostridium difficile. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2013.
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