Mouth Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

What is mouth inflammation? Inflammation (also known as swelling) is a normal reaction your body may have to an injury.

It can affect many parts of your body, including your mouth. At first, inflammation helps to heal the body or injured area. However, if your body is unable to repair itself and return to normal, you may experience some problems in addition to the inflammation.

There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic.

  • Acute inflammation typically heals after a few days. For example, if you burn the roof of your mouth with coffee that’s too hot, you may find that the burned area is red, swollen, hot, and painful. This inflammation is normal, and will help heal the burned area. After a few days, it will be gone.
  • Chronic inflammation in the mouth can be long-lasting, and can contribute to serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even some forms of cancer. This kind of inflammation is most commonly caused by gum (periodontal) disease , and occurs when your body tries to remove the mouth bacteria that is causing an infection in the gums. Over time, this type of inflammation can lead to serious damage of the gums, bone, and structures that support the teeth. Severe cases can eventually lead to tooth loss.

What are the symptoms?

If you experience any of the following in your mouth, you likely have some inflammation:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Pain
  • Loss of function

What causes mouth inflammation?

Most inflammation of the mouth is caused by injuries to your mouth. Common examples include:

Mouth inflammation can also be caused by an allergic reaction to a type of toothpaste or mouthwash, as well as infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Inflammation may even be a sign of cancer or other diseases.

In some cases, diseases or treatments not directly related to the mouth may have side effects that include inflammation or sores in the mouth. Some of the known things that may cause inflammation include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, autoimmune diseases, vitamins or nutrient deficiencies, leukemia, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases.

How is mouth inflammation treated?

Treating mouth inflammation depends on several factors. First is the severity of the inflammation. If it’s severe enough to prevent you from performing normal activities like eating, drinking, swallowing, or speaking, see your dentist immediately. If the inflammation is making it hard to breathe, seek immediate emergency medical care.

If the inflammation isn’t interfering with normal functions, try to determine the cause so you can make adjustments that allow your body to heal. For example, if a type of food is irritating your mouth, you may want to change your diet.

If you’ve injured your mouth and can function normally, the problem will most likely heal within a few days. You can encourage healing by keeping the affected area clean. If your symptoms don’t improve within 3-5 days, or if they seem to be getting worse, contact your dentist and they can recommend next steps.

About the Author

Ewa Posorski, RDH, BS, Master's Candidate
Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences - Boston, MA

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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