In this article
Stomatitis is a general term for inflammation of the mouth and lips. It includes conditions that affect the tongue, gums, and other parts of the mouth. Some types of stomatitis involve ulcers (sores).
Potential symptoms of stomatitis include:
Depending on the cause, you might notice other symptoms, such as a headache, fever, or malaise (feeling sick).
If you have these symptoms, you should consult a doctor. The underlying cause may require prescription medication or other professional treatment.
Deficiencies in certain nutrients can lead to stomatitis. These include iron and vitamins B2, B3, B6, B9 (folic acid), and B12. You may develop stomatitis if you have:
These deficiencies can cause cell damage and make it hard for your body to replace the cells in your mouth, lips, tongue, and other areas.
In addition, some research suggests that zinc deficiency may contribute to canker sores.3, 4
Stomatitis can result from an allergic reaction or chronic mouth irritation.5,6 If you’re allergic to cinnamon, peppermint, or certain metals, exposure may cause your lips or the lining of your mouth to become sore and inflamed.
One form of stomatitis is unique to smokers, called stomatitis nicotina.7 It shows up as a painless white patch on the roof of the mouth. This occurs because of repeated exposure to heat and generally goes away if you stop smoking.
Your mouth, throat, and gums can all become inflamed due to a bacterial or viral infection. Fungal infections are also possible (denture stomatitis is usually fungal, i.e. a form of thrush).5,8 Poor oral hygiene is an important factor in bacterial or fungal stomatitis.
Cold sores caused by herpes are also a kind of stomatitis.9 These aren’t necessarily affected by oral hygiene, but stress may cause outbreaks once you have the virus (see below).
HIV is also a risk factor for mouth ulcers, as it weakens your immune system, which can lead to a secondary infection. Severe forms of necrotizing gingivitis are sometimes seen in HIV patients.10
Stress can affect mouth inflammation, including canker sores and cold sores. Like rosacea, hives, and other inflammatory conditions, stomatitis may flare up due to emotional stress.
One study found higher levels of psychological stress in students with recurring canker sores.2 These can also be brought on by stress. After the initial herpes infection, the virus remains in your body, and stress can contribute to later outbreaks.
Systemic illnesses such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease can make stomatitis more likely to develop. This is because they contribute to inflammation and can affect your immune system.
For example, people with dentures are more likely to develop denture-related stomatitis from an oral yeast infection if they also have diabetes.11 Crohn’s disease can also cause a specific type of stomatitis.12
People undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer sometimes experience a condition called mucositis.13 This is inflammation that can affect mucous membranes throughout the digestive tract.
When mucositis affects your mouth, it can be considered a form of stomatitis. It can’t be completely prevented during cancer treatment, but your doctor may encourage good oral hygiene to help mitigate the symptoms.
Certain medications, including some antibiotics, can also have stomatitis as a side effect.14
To diagnose a specific form of stomatitis, your dentist or doctor will want to physically examine you and get an accurate history of your symptoms. Canker sores, for example, are usually easy to diagnose based on their appearance and how long you’ve had them.
Your doctor may also ask questions about your diet, lifestyle, recent history, and any existing or previous illnesses you’ve had. In some cases, a blood test or tissue biopsy may be needed.
Treatment for stomatitis depends on the type and cause and may include:1,2,3,4
The appropriate course of treatment for you may include more than one of the above.
A dentist can diagnose and treat stomatitis. However, certain causes, such as malnutrition or Crohn’s disease, may need treatment beyond the scope of dentistry.
If you notice unusual changes in the appearance or feeling of your mouth, your dentist should be able to help identify the cause and apply the right treatment.
Not every cause of stomatitis can be prevented, but you can reduce your risk of developing mouth ulcers or other inflammation by:
A common type of stomatitis is recurrent aphthous stomatitis (canker sores).1 These oral ulcers can develop even if you’re perfectly healthy. They typically heal on their own within about a week, but they can recur frequently.
It isn’t clear what causes canker sores, but it may be due to an immune response to irritation, an allergy, or a nutrient deficiency. There’s no cure, so treatment is mainly aimed at pain relief.
Other types of stomatitis include:
A variety of medications can cause mouth inflammation. Immunosuppressant drugs, medications that treat high or low blood pressure, and some antibiotics can all cause oral ulcers as a side effect.14
Cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can also cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract, including the mouth.13
Stomatitis is usually painful. Mouth sores, such as canker sores, can cause severe pain even when a person is completely healthy. And some causes of stomatitis, such as B12 deficiency, involve nerve damage.
However, it’s possible to have mouth inflammation that isn’t painful. Smokers, especially pipe smokers, can develop a painless form of stomatitis that affects the roof of the mouth.
One involves visible symptoms, and the other doesn’t. Stomatitis is inflammation that may show up as ulcers, redness, or white patches. It may or may not be painful.
Burning mouth syndrome, on the other hand, is persistent mouth pain without any obvious cause. It’s rarer and less understood but may be due to nerve damage or hormonal changes in women during menopause.
Stomatitis refers to inflammation of the lining of your mouth, your lips, or your tongue. Depending on the cause, it can overlap with throat, gum, or other inflammation.
Canker sores are a common form of stomatitis and don’t have a clear cause or cure. But other types of stomatitis exist, and treatment can be tailored to the specific condition.
See your dentist or doctor if you notice any unusual symptoms or pain involving your gums, cheeks, lips, tongue, or other areas of your mouth.
In this article