Pain in the roof of the mouth (also known as the palate) is a relatively common occurrence. This is because the mouth is very sensitive and comes in contact with different substances that can cause irritation.
This can result in the formation of sores or bumps at the roof of your mouth, tongue, and gums causing severe pain and discomfort when eating or drinking. These symptoms are more pronounced when you eat hot or spicy food.
The roof of your mouth can hurt for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is not so serious and resolves in some days while other times it could be a sign of a medical condition.
1. Trauma/ Chemical Burn
Trauma to the roof of the mouth is one of the commonest causes of a hurting palate. Trauma can happen in the form of burns from drinking excessively hot foods and beverages, eating very spicy foods, an ill-fitting mouth appliance like a denture or from a food particle like a fishbone.
A blister or sore may form afterward, making your palate very sensitive and painful.
Also, harsh mouthwashes or toothpaste, allergic reactions to certain foods, and dissolving an aspirin tablet next to a painful tooth can make the roof of your mouth hurt.
2. Canker Sores
These are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, painful, red, yellow or white sores that occur on the roof of your mouth, tongue, lips or inner cheek. They form as a result of stress, autoimmune diseases, and reduced immunity. Sometimes the cause may be unknown.
Viral or bacterial infections such as sore throat, tonsillitis, inflammation of the sinuses and common cold can cause the roof of your mouth to hurt.
This can be due to the pressure of the sinus pushing on the roof of your mouth or bacterial growth irritating the soft tissue inside your mouth.
Fungal infections like candidiasis, also known as oral thrush, cause red bumps on the palate which are sometimes painful.
Dehydration as a result of excessive alcohol consumption or illness can cause swelling and discomfort in your mouth’s roof. Dehydration can also cause your mouth to be dry causing your palate to be tender and swollen.
5. Electrolyte Imbalance
Electrolytes are the minerals in your blood, urine, and body fluids. They are important in the proper functioning of the body. If there is an imbalance in these minerals, it can cause swelling and pain in the roof of your mouth.
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums due to plaque build-up. This can also cause the roof of your mouth to hurt.
7. Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis(ANUG)
ANUG is a relatively rare infection of the gums. It’s also known as “trench mouth” because it was seen commonly in soldiers in trenches.
It also affects people with suppressed immunity as seen in untreated HIV, malnourished children, and some smokers. This infection causes pain in the gums and the roof of the mouth. There is also associated bad breath.
8. Cold Sores
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, is a viral infection that causes recurrent sores in the mouth like the lips and the roof of the mouth. These sores are usually painful.
9. Burning Mouth Syndrome
This is a condition where there is an ongoing burning sensation in the mouth and usually affects the gums, tongue, and palate.
These symptoms may be worse during the day and may lessen as the day goes by or it may be less in the morning and becomes worse as the day progresses. It is most common in women past the age of menopause.
The cause of this condition is unknown but it has been linked to various factors like oral thrush, acid reflux, stress, dry mouth, allergies to certain foods, and dental hygiene products. It has also been linked to psychological disorders.
10. Hormonal Causes
Hormonal states such as puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy can also be the reason why the roof of your mouth hurts. This is caused by the changes in the levels of the hormones leading to increased blood flow to the mouth tissues causing them to be swollen and sensitive.
11. Tooth Abscess
Infection of the upper front teeth such as the incisors can lead to pus accumulation behind the tooth. The collection of pus at the roof of the mouth over time leads to abscess formation. There is also associated pain and pus discharge.
Trauma to the upper teeth can lead to a collection of fluid in the roof of the mouth. This is called a periapical cyst. Also, another cyst called nasopalatine duct cyst may form and if it becomes infected, it will cause pain at the roof of the mouth.
13. Tumors and Oral Cancer
A tumor is an abnormal growth in the body. These tumors can also occur in the mouth, including the roof of the mouth. These tumors are usually painless unless they have been traumatized or become infected. Examples of these tumors are squamous cell papilloma and mucocele.
Sometimes, the reason for pain in the roof of the mouth is oral cancer. Cancer of the mouth starts as non-healing painful sores and can develop anywhere in the mouth including the palate.
15. Other Causes
Other causes like smoking and deficiency of the B and C vitamins have also been linked to pain in the palate.
Apart from pain, there could be other associated symptoms like:
- Redness of the palate
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Sores or blisters in the mouth
- Bleeding gums
- Discolored tooth
When To See Your Doctor
Many times, pain at the roof of the mouth resolves after a few days, especially when caused by mild burns from hot food. You should see your doctor if the pain is severe, continues more than a few days or you notice other symptoms like bleeding or pus discharge.
Pain from hot food-related burns or canker sores will resolve in about a week without any treatment.
Warm salt-water rinse can help reduce pain and hasten the healing process.
Adequate intake of water and eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins B and C, and reduction in alcohol intake can help to manage a hurting palate due to dehydration, vitamin deficiency, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Over the counter analgesic medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen help to reduce pain and inflammation, making you feel more comfortable. Antibiotics will be prescribed for bacterial infection. In cases of fungal infections like oral thrush, antifungal medications and creams like fluconazole and nystatin will be prescribed.
If the trauma is from an ill-fitting denture or other appliances, the necessary adjustment by your dentist needs to be done to relieve the pain.
If the pain is due to an abscessed or infected tooth, a root canal treatment will be done by your dentist to save the affected tooth. The pus will also be drained under local anesthesia and antibiotics will be prescribed. In cases where the tooth cannot be saved, extraction of the tooth is the next option.
Cysts of the mouth region and tumors need to be reviewed by the oral surgeon for proper diagnosis and treatment. Surgical removal of the growth will be done and then sent to the laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.
Proper review by an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon is necessary in cases of Inflammation of the sinuses and tonsillitis.
In cases where a psychological disorder is suspected, referral to a clinical psychologist may be required.
Suspected cases of oral cancer should be referred to an oral surgeon for proper management. Surgery with chemotherapy or radiotherapy is usually the treatment option.
The following measures can be taken to prevent pain in the roof of your mouth:
- Brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly.
- Visit your dentist regularly for routine checks and professional cleaning.
- If you notice any allergic reaction to any food or dental hygiene product such as toothpaste, discontinue use immediately.
- Avoid eating too hot or too spicy food.
- If you notice any abnormal growth or swelling in your mouth, an urgent trip to your dentist’s office is needed as soon as possible.
- Wearing of mouthguards during sports so as to prevent trauma to the anterior teeth.
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