Redness Around the Mouth: Possible Medical Causes

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is mouth redness?

Redness around the mouth is a common symptom of infection or injury, or it could be a sign of an underlying condition of another part of the body. Mouth redness may be caused by pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, which inflame the mucous membranes of the mouth. It may occur in conditions affecting parts of the mouth, such as the lips, tongue or gums, or in association with more generalized conditions, such as human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) or leukemia. Only in rare situations does mouth redness result in a serious or life-threatening situation.

Cold sores, or “fever blisters,” that surface on the skin around the mouth result from the herpes simplex virus. Blisters within the mouth may be a sign of hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD), which can be caused by several types of viruses. Fungal infections, such as candida, may also cause mouth redness. Depending on the cause, redness may occur only in one area or it may affect the entire mouth.

Trauma caused by excessive teeth brushing can lead to redness of the mouth, which may damage the gums and cause inflammation, swelling, or canker sores. Ill-fitting dentures may also cause sores and mouth redness. Any type of trauma to the mouth, lips or tongue can result in mouth redness as a result of inflammation and swelling around the site of injury.

Mouth redness is rarely associated with a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your redness is associated with bleeding that cannot be stopped, pale skin or pallor, loss of teeth, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit),swelling in your lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing,

If your mouth redness is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with mouth redness?

Mouth redness may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the mouth may also involve other body systems.

Infectious disease symptoms that may occur along with mouth redness

Mouth redness may accompany other symptoms associated with different infections including:

  • Cracking at the corners of your mouth
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malaise or lethargy
  • Painful, red blisters on the gums, tongue, and inside of the cheeks that may bleed
  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
  • Red, blistery rash on palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Small, painful skin blisters around the mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Sores that contain pus
  • Sores that resemble cottage cheese
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling or other unusual sensations

Trauma symptoms that may occur along with mouth redness

Mouth redness may accompany symptoms related to trauma including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with mouth redness

Mouth redness may accompany symptoms related to underlying chronic disorders including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

Mouth redness alone is rarely a sign of a medical emergency. In some cases, however, mouth redness may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911)if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Trouble thinking clearly

What causes mouth redness?

Mouth redness results from inflammation due to infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Infections of the skin around the mouth, mucous membranes inside the mouth, gums, and tongue are common causes of mouth redness.

Trauma that causes damage to the lips, tongue, gums, and the inside of the mouth is also a common cause of mouth redness. Damage to the mouth can be the result of excessive teeth brushing or dentures that are not fitted properly. All of these cause inflammation, redness and ulcers. Mouth redness can also result from underlying conditions, such as scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and leukemia.

Infectious causes of mouth redness

Mouth redness may be caused by infections including:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Candida (fungal infections)
  • Gingivitis (infection of the gums)
  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD)
  • Herpes simplex
  • Other viral infections

Traumatic causes of mouth redness

Mouth redness can also be caused by trauma including:

  • Excessive tooth brushing
  • Mouth appliances
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Repeated licking of the lips
  • Trauma to mouth and face

Serious or life-threatening causes of mouth redness

It is rare for mouth redness alone to be a symptom of a serious condition. However, in rare cases, mouth redness may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS)
  • Leukemia

Questions for diagnosing the cause of mouth redness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your mouth redness including:

  • Are you currently following a special diet or restricting specific food groups?
  • When did you first notice your mouth was red?
  • Have you had a recent injury to your mouth?
  • Are you experiencing pain in your mouth?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What have you done to relieve your symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of mouth redness?

Because mouth redness can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Loss of teeth
  • Serious infections
  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/enterovirus/hfhf.htm.
  2. Herpes Simplex. MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/herpessimplex.html.
  3. Mouth sores. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003059.htm.