Stomatitis is the term for a number of conditions that result in inflammation in and around the mouth. From redness to blistering to swelling, stomatitis can be a painful condition, and the treatment for this condition depends on its cause.

Whether you bit the inside of your mouth or are suffering the side effects of a chemotherapy medication, stomatitis can affect people of all ages. Common types include:

Aphthous Ulcers/Canker Sores

Looks Like: Aphthous ulcers are small lesions on the inner portion of the lips, cheeks or tongue. The ulcers may appear white, yellow or flesh-colored.

Who Gets Them: Canker sores most commonly occur in children ages 10 to 19.

What Causes Them: A number of factors can cause canker sores. These include stress, mouth injury, poor nutrition and a compromised immune system.

Herpetic Stomatitis

Looks Like: Red-colored blisters appear on the tongue, cheeks, palate, gums and on the lip. A child may have trouble swallowing, fever, irritability and swollen gums in addition to ulcer symptoms.

Who Gets Them: Young children most often experience this condition.

What Causes Them: The herpes simplex virus or HSV causes herpetic stomatitis. This virus is slightly different from that of a common cold sore.

Cold Sores/Fever Blisters/Herpes Labialis

Looks Like: This stomatitis type differs from herpetic stomatitis because the lesions typically form on the outer portion of your lips, mouth, nose, cheeks or fingers. The blisters can break or ooze before crusting over and disappearing.

Who Gets Them: Adults are most commonly affected by cold sores, and the condition is easily transmitted through kissing an infected person or sharing personal items, such as eating utensils.

What Causes Them: The herpex simplex virus-1 type typically causes this infection although HSV-2 may be to blame as well.

Other types of mouth irritation can be classified as stomatitis. Examples include:

  • Irritation from biting your lip or cheek
  • Redness or irritation due to poorly fitting dentures
  • Skin burn from eating or drinking a hot food item
  • Redness and irritation from an autoimmune disease such as Crohn’s disease, lupus or Behcet’s disease
  • Reaction to radiation or medications, including chemotherapy, antibiotics, rheumatoid arthritis or epilepsy drugs

Can You Prevent Stomatitis?

While you cannot always prevent stomatitis, practicing good hygiene and eating habits can help. Refrain from sharing food, utensils and towels with others to minimize the spread of the herpes simplex virus. You also should refrain from kissing or having other sexual contact with a person who has a visible cold sore or oral blister.

Because stress can bring on an outbreak, take steps to keep your anxiety levels to a minimum. From an extra hour of sleep to taking a walk to deep breathing, there are many techniques that can help to reduce your stress level and stomatitis infection risk.

Tobacco use also can lead to stomatitis due to the irritating chemicals contained within. Avoid tobacco products as much as possible.

Taking extra-special care of your dental health following a stomatitis outbreak also may help to prevent future ones. This includes brushing your teeth with a soft toothbrush following meals or rinsing with a saltwater rinse to soothe irritation and minimize acidity in your mouth that causes irritation.

Treatments for Stomatitis

Stomatitis that occurs due to a virus should go away on its own with time. This includes herpetic stomatitis, cold sores and canker sores. Most treatments are those that minimize pain and discomfort. This includes drinking cool drinks and avoiding acidic sodas and juices that can irritate the sore. Applying a topical numbing medication also can reduce painful symptoms.

You also can see your physician and ask for a prescription for acyclovir, an anti-viral medical treatment that can reduce the duration of a stomatitis outbreak. Lasers also have been used to treat canker sores.

“Under normal circumstances, the body will clear a canker or cold sore within two weeks of onset with no intervention,” says Margaret Mitchell, DDS, a dentist with the Mitchell Dental Spa in Chicago, Ill. “If you have no idea what caused the problem and are concerned, go seek advice from a dental professional.”

If your stomatitis is the result of medical treatments, see your dentist because resulting dry mouth can increase your risk for cavities and gum disease. Your dentist can provide soothing creams that also help to reduce dry mouth.