Pimples in the Mouth: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Pimples inside the mouth are common and usually harmless. However, in some cases, it can indicate a more serious condition. There are various causes of pimples in the mouth. Some are preventable, and some are not. Read on to learn the most common causes of pimples inside the mouth and how to treat and prevent them.

Key takeaways:

What are pimples in the mouth?

Pimples inside the mouth may appear as pink-red bumps, clear bumps, or bumps with a white-grey head. Depending on the cause, the pimples may be asymptomatic, painful, sore, or irritated. They can appear on the lips, gums, cheeks, roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, or tongue. Some can be small and isolated, while others may be large or appear in clusters.

Causes of pimples in the mouth

There are many causes of pimples in the mouth. Some are infectious, inflammatory, or cancerous. The cause will dictate the treatment and prevention. It is best to seek diagnosis and treatment from your doctor as soon as you notice new lesions. The sooner you treat them, the sooner they resolve.

These are the most common causes of pimples in the mouth:

  • Canker sores (aphthous ulcers). Appear anywhere on the inside of the cheeks, lips, gums, and tongue. They look like pink bumps with white heads that can be solitary or in clusters. They may be painful or sore. The causes of canker sores include stress, genetics, injury, irritation from certain foods or drinks, suppressed immune system, changes in hormones, vitamin deficiencies, stomach issues, and smoking. They are not contagious, but they can take weeks to heal.
  • Cold sores. Usually arise on the lips, gums, roof of the mouth, and tongue. They are similar in appearance to canker sores, but they are always painful. Infection with the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the main culprit of cold sores, but sometimes HSV-2 infection will cause it. Outbreaks occur due to stress, depressed immune system from sickness, sun, and trauma. It can take weeks to resolve, and you are contagious until they heal. Many experience recurring outbreaks that may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation and accompanied by fever and chills.
  • Trauma. It can lead to pimple-like lesions inside the mouth. Dental work, the habit of biting the inside of your mouth, or accidentally biting your tongue while eating can lead to traumatic injury inside the mouth. Depending on the cause, the lesions can appear anywhere inside the mouth.
  • Cancers. May present as an irregularly shaped ulcer or pink bump with or without a white top anywhere inside the mouth. These lesions often bleed and will not heal, which is the first clue that something is wrong. If it has a white top, it will not easily scrape off. Patients may also experience weight loss, difficulty eating or swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Smoking, excessive drinking, and infection with the HPV virus can cause mouth cancer.
  • Mucoceles. Appear as whitish bumps on the inside of the cheeks, tongue, gums, or floor of the mouth. They are usually asymptomatic. They occur from smoking or an injury that leads to a clogged salivary gland.
  • Warts. Look like pink bumps with a white cauliflower top. They can appear anywhere in the mouth and usually are asymptomatic. Infection with the HPV virus causes warts.

Treatment of pimples in the mouth

Depending on the cause of the pimple in the mouth, there are over-the-counter and prescription treatment options available. If the over-the-counter options fail, see your doctor immediately to prevent your condition from getting worse. Some cases require surgical interventions.

Here are treatment options:

Canker soresOften resolve without treatment. Supportive care consists of over-the-counter pain medications, topical numbing gel, or topical steroids.
Cold soresCan resolve without treatment, but treatment will give you a quicker resolution. Treatment includes over-the-counter or prescription topical or oral antiviral medications. When you have an outbreak, do not kiss anyone or share food, drink, utensils, and plates. Topical numbing gel or over-the-counter pain meds can help.
Traumatic injuriesUsually heal on their own. Over-the-counter pain meds and ice packs can help alleviate discomfort. It is best to avoid food or drink that may irritate the open area, like spicy food or citrus.
CancerRequires treatment by an oncologist. Depending on the type of cancer and extent of spread, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
MucocelesDo not require treatment as they resolve on their own. If you want faster resolution, your doctor can treat it with surgery, cryotherapy, or a laser.
WartsCan resolve without treatment. Quicker resolution involves surgery or cryotherapy by your doctor.

Prevention of pimples in the mouth

Prevention of pimples in the mouth, like treatment, depends on the cause. Many of these are preventable, but some are not. Prevention is always better than treatment.

Prevention includes:

Canker sorePrevention includes avoiding certain foods, stress, injury, and smoking.
Cold soresPrevention involves avoiding kissing or sharing food, drink, utensils, or plates with people who are infected. If you have the virus, avoid stress, sun, and trauma to prevent an outbreak. Stay healthy and keep your immune system functioning properly.
Trauma injuriesMay be difficult to prevent since most of them are accidental.
CancerPrevention includes avoiding smoking, excessive drinking, and sun. Get your mouth checked regularly by your dentist and practice good oral hygiene.
MucocelesPrevention requires avoiding smoking and biting your lip; however, there is no prevention for accidental traumas.
WartsPrevention involves getting the HPV vaccine, and avoiding smoking, kissing, or sharing food, drink, utensils, or plates with infected individuals.

When should I see a doctor about pimples in the mouth?

Many types of pimples in the mouth resolve without treatment in a couple of weeks. If it does not, see your doctor. If you do not know the cause of the pimple, it is best to get checked by your doctor. If you experience pain, fever, chills, or worsening of your condition, see your doctor immediately. Delaying treatment of some conditions can have serious or deadly consequences.

Various causes lead to pimples inside the mouth, such as infections, inflammatory conditions, trauma, and cancer. The treatment and prevention of pimples inside the mouth depend solely on the correct diagnosis. See your doctor right away if you get a pimple inside your mouth. Prompt treatment is necessary to resolve many types of pimples and prevent possible negative consequences.

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