Cheilosis/Cheilitis

What Is It?

Cheilosis (also called cheilitis) is a painful inflammation and cracking of the corners of the mouth. It sometimes occurs on only one side of the mouth, but usually involves both sides. This disorder occurs most frequently in people with ill-fitting dentures that fail to adequately separate the upper and lower jaws. People with habits that irritate the corners of the mouth, like licking or rubbing those areas, also are more likely to develop cheilosis. Moisture gathers in skin folds at the corner of the mouth and provides a fertile environment for the formation of yeast (Candida) infections.

People with health disorders such as anemia, diabetes and immune deficiencies are particularly vulnerable.

Symptoms

Cracking, painful inflammation and sometimes weeping at the corners of the mouth.

Diagnosis

Your dentist or physician first will look to see if your dentures are fitting properly. He or she also will ask about your oral habits, such as licking the corners of your mouth. Blood tests may be done to test for anemias or immune deficiencies, and a smear or culture from the area may be tested to detect bacterial or yeast infections.

Expected Duration

Once the underlying cause is corrected, healing usually is quick.

Prevention

If you wear dentures, visit your dentist to be sure they fit properly and adequately support the face. Avoid licking or rubbing the corners of your mouth.

Treatment

Treatment focuses on eliminating causes such as oral habits or poorly fitting dentures. Infections may be treated with steroids or antifungal or antibacterial medications applied directly to the affected area. Severe infections, particularly in people with underlying medical problems, may require antifungal drugs that are taken orally.

When To Call A Professional

If you experience constant or repeat inflammation in the corners of your mouth, you should contact your dentist or doctor.

Prognosis

Good, once the cause has been eliminated.

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Reviewed by the faculty of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine